First Sunday of Advent

Jer 33:14-16, 1Thes 3:12 — 4:2, Lk 21:25-28, 34-36

A retired man who volunteers to entertain patients in nursing homes and hospitals went to one local hospital in Brooklyn and took his portable keyboard along. He told some jokes and sang some funny songs at patients` bedsides. When he finished he said, in farewell, “I hope you get better.” One elderly gentleman replied, “I hope you get better, too.”

As we begin the new liturgical year today I hope we all get better too as we all listen once again to the story of Jesus birth, his miracles and teachings, his death and resurrection. Pope Francis has declared ‘An Extra-ordinary Year of Mercy’ beginning on Dec 8. Gospel of Luke is known as gospel of mercy. During this year of Mercy St. Luke will be our mentor.

Easter and Christmas, as the two major festivals of the liturgical year, are each preceded by a period of preparation. Advent, like Lent, has a certain penitential character. It invites us to reflection, prayer and self-discipline in order that we might be truly ready to celebrate the birth of Jesus. We have this year 27 days to prepare for Christmas. From the beginning of Advent, some of us become very busy buying gifts, decorating, sending cards and going to parties; they are all good but how much do they do for our inner self, our spirit, besides maybe wear us out? I hope we get better than last year in our spiritual preparation.

Jesus tells us pointedly in today’s gospel, “Be careful not to let your hearts be weighed down from dissipation and drunkenness and the anxieties of this life… but be alert at all times and pray…”

 Several years ago a bus driver in Oklahoma reached an unusual record. In 23 years he had driven a bus over 900,000 miles without a single accident. When asked how he had done it, he gave this simple answer: “Watch the road.” In today’s Gospel Jesus gives the same advice in several ways: “Be vigilant at all times,” “Stand erect,” “Raise your heads,” “Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy.”

This is not only a good spiritual advice for the Advent season but also a safe rule for daily life.  A good football player or basketball player should always concentrate his attention on the ball and the players. A good student must be alert, awake and attentive, watching the teacher and listening to his or her words. Like the Roman god Janus, who had two faces, one looking at the past year and the other looking into future, Christians during the Advent season are to look at the past event of the first coming of Jesus into the world and expectantly look forward to his second coming in glory.

On the night of April 15, 1912, the titanic hit an iceberg in the North Atlantic and sank. Over 1,500 people lost their lives in one of the worst sea disasters in history. A few years ago a magazine recalled the great disaster and asked its readers this shocking – almost blasphemous – question: “if we’d been on the Titanic when it sank, would we have rearranged the deck chairs?”

At first we say to ourselves, ‘What a ridiculous question! No one in his right mind w0uld ignore wailing sirens on the sinking ship and rearrange its deck chairs! “No once with an ounce of sanity would ignore the shouts of drowning people and keep rearranging deck chairs!” But as we continue to read the magazine, we see the reason for the strange question. And suddenly we ask ourselves, “Are we, perhaps, rearranging deck chairs on a sinking ship?”

For example, are we so caught up with material things in life that we are giving a backseat to spiritual things? Are we so busy making a living that we are forgetting the purpose of life? Are we so taken up with life that we are forgetting why God gave us life?” Are we so taken up with life that we are forgetting why God gave us life?’ Strangely enough, the question “Are we rearranging deck chairs on a sinking ship?’’ is the very question the Church asks us in the season of Advent.

All three readings in today’s Mass, in one way or another, invite us to ask ourselves, “Are we rearranging deck chairs on a sinking ship?’’ In other words, “Are we so caught up with this life that we are forgetting it’s only a preparation for a life to come?’’ Jesus warns us in today’s gospel: “Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life.” Rather, Jesus tells us to watch and pray. Watch and pray for the coming of the Lord, which will signal the end of this life and the start of the next life. Watch and pray for the coming of the Lord!