Many of us may have had the occasional experience of nodding off during prayer or even at Mass, especially if you have had a tiring day, after a heavy meal, or even when the homily is not engaging (boring).  While in the seminary, early morning meditation time can sometimes be very challenging especially if I had a late night the previous day. I used to console myself by thinking even the disciples fell asleep despite Jesus asking them to keep awake and pray just before His passion. So, it’s not that bad after all… the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak!

As we begin the season of Advent, we are presented with the gospel passage that has vigilance as its central theme. The instruction “be vigilant” is repeated in various forms at least five times: Be on your guard (v.33), stay awake!” (v. 33), he has told the doorkeeper to stay awake (v. 33), so stay awake (v. 35), I say to all: Stay awake! (v. 37). The insistence of being awake is to welcome the Master who will come suddenly and unexpectedly. Like the servants of the parable, we are instructed to be prepared at all times.

Not only in the spiritual sense but also in the practical sense, Advent is a time of waiting. As we begin this season, most people, especially children, are already eagerly counting the days to Christmas. The spiritual attitude of waiting is not the same as counting the days to Christmas or looking for the signs when the Lord will come again.

The Christian attitude of waiting can be characterised in three ways. Firstly, our waiting is an expectant waiting and not passive waiting. Passive waiting is thinking something good may happen and therefore the person is willing to sit around and see if anything happens. On the other hand, expectant waiting is filled with hope. Deep down you know that it will happen but it is only a matter of time. Secondly, even though our waiting is with expectancy, but we must also be prepared for unexpected answers. Expectancy on our part may be marked out by our own desires and thoughts. However, God can “surprise” us in the way He chooses to respond and we must learn to expect those “surprises”. We need to trust in the Lord and not in our own understanding. Thirdly, our waiting on the Lord must be grounded on steadfast prayer and joyful thanksgiving. God can only accomplish His good purposes in our lives when we wait for Him and persevere in prayer. In the words of St Paul, “Set your mind on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3:2-4).

In all of this, as followers of Jesus, we must proclaim that we believe that we have a future worth waiting for and that there are promises that God will surely keep. In that sense, Advent calls us to not laze around and wait idly for the Lord. It is both a reminder and invitation that we must be actively working and preparing a new world by collaborating actively in building it. In the second reading today, St Paul reminds us that we have been enriched by the Holy Spirit with gifts and talents to make this world a better place until the coming of the Day of the Lord.

As we look towards celebrating the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ and prepare liturgically His second coming, let us not forget that He is already amongst us. This Advent is another opportunity to re-engage with the sheer urgency in the mission of Jesus through the Church… O come, divine Messiah! The world in silence waits the day when hope shall sing its triumph and sadness flee away.

First Sunday of Advent (29 Nov 2020)