1st Sunday of Advent. December 3, 2017.
Is 63:16-17,19; 64:2-7; 1Cor 1:-9; Mk 13:33-37
Sin, Grace, and the waiting of the Advent Season
There are many possible reasons why many people participate in the Eucharistic liturgy today but few of them come to receive Our Lord Jesus Christ in Holy Communion. Whatever the reasons may be, it is safe to say that many of us today do not receive Holy Communion because we do not desire God as we really should. If we really believed in the Real Presence of Jesus in Holy Communion and His love for us, and if we desired Him as we really should, nothing would stop us from receiving Him sacramentally. The truth is that our hearts have found contentment in something less than God or even contrary to His will for us. That is how sin kills our desire for God and our energy for God and the things of God.
Jesus asks us in today’s Gospel to watch, “Be watchful! Be alert…What I say to you, I say to all: watch!” How can we watch for the Lord with expectation for His glorious return and labor faithfully for Him till the end when we do not desire Him above all things as we should? How can we wait for Jesus when we have found contentment in some creaturely thing? The first step to watch for Jesus is to close our hearts to sin completely without compromise because sin will surely snuff out our desire for God and we take away our strength for serving, loving and worshipping God till the end.
In the First Reading, the exiled Israelites return to their country only to find it devastated. They have a desire for God to come into their midst again, “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down.” This desire for God is fueled and accompanied by a humble acknowledgement and acceptance of their own sins and sinfulness, “Behold, you are angry and we are sinful; all of us have become like unclean men, all our good deeds are like polluted rags…our guilt carries us away like the wind.” They appeal for God’s continuing saving action in their lives as they pledge complete dependence on God henceforth, “Yet, Oh Lord, you are our father; we are the clay and you the potter; we are all the work of your hands.” Having admitted their sins and affirmed the continuous goodness of God, they show a truly humble and contrite heart that desires God and is ready to be found ever more faithful to Him and dependent on Him alone.
In the Second Reading, St. Paul reminds us of God’s response to our sins – grace won for us by Jesus Christ. This grace supplies all our need and makes our waiting for Jesus till the very end possible, “The grace bestowed on you in Christ Jesus…so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.” It is this grace that heals our wounds, forgives our sins, sets us free as God’s children and strengthens us to be faithful till Jesus’ glorious return. Our second step to watch for Jesus’ return is to open our hearts completely to His grace.
We must make use of all the means that Jesus has given to us to overcome sin and receive His grace. The waiting of Advent points us to the Sacrament of confession where, seeing sin for what it really is according to God’s standards, we surrender our sins without any pretense, and receive the healing and liberating grace of God in sacramental absolution. The more thorough and sincere our Confessions are, the more that sacramental grace acts to enkindle ever more our hunger for God even as we struggle with sinful tendencies.
There is a tendency today to take sin lightly. We even try to “sanitize” sin by giving it more socially acceptable names. Pornography, the great sin of lust, is called Adult entertainment. The murder of the unborn infant is called abortion. Stealing is called corruption. Homosexual action is called same-sex relationships. Adultery is now referred to as irregular unions. We here in the Philippines call gossip and slander “chismis.” We also blame every other person but ourselves for our sinful choices. Even God is not spared the blame as we hear many say today, “I am this and that because I was born that way.” We sadly justify and rationalize our sins, denying personal responsibility and claiming that there is nothing that we can do to overcome sin in our lives.
The truth is that no matter what our response to sin is, no matter how we try to give it a new name or push the blame for sin away from us, sin still has the same effect on us – it kills our desire for God and takes away our energy for God and the things of God so that we cannot watch for the Lord Jesus Christ. The only way to keep our desire for God alive and growing is to close our hearts to sin and open them to divine grace.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, St. Paul reminds us that “God is faithful, and by Him we are called to fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” There is no accidental saint in heaven. Only those who consciously live and nurture their desire for full communion with God eternally will enter heaven. This is because Jesus gives Himself and introduces into beatifying fellowship with Him only those who desire Him ardently. He will never force Himself on those who do not desire Him as they should.
This explains why Jesus gave Himself to us only through Mary, an immaculately conceived virgin who was filled with grace, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.” Mama Mary desired God more than any person that ever lived on this earth because her Immaculate Heart is forever closed to any form of sin and completely opened to receive all graces, even the Author of Grace Himself. The Second Eucharistic Preface of Advent captures the uniqueness of Mary’s desire for God in these lovely words: “For all the oracles of the prophets foretold Him (Jesus), the Virgin Mother longed for Him with love beyond all telling.” Nothing could quench or diminish Mary’s desire for Jesus; not even the anguish of her dying Son could quench her desire to receive and bury His dead body after the Crucifixion. She watched for His glorious return and was ready to receive Him at the end of her earthly life and to have Him assume her body and soul into heaven.
Mary remains the woman of Advent who helps us to watch for Christ’s coming. She is so because she is the New Eve who helps us to close our hearts to sin, and she is the Mother of divine grace who helps us to open our hearts completely to the mysterious workings of divine grace so that we desire God ever more deeply as we watch for Him.
Jesus, the Author of grace, comes to us in today’s Eucharist with all the graces that we need. He will surely come in glory on a day and time that we do not know or expect. His grace alone intensifies our hunger for God, strengthens us for the things of God and makes our watching for His glorious return possible. All we have to do is to let this desire for Jesus grow continuously by closing our hearts to all sin and opening them completely to the grace of Jesus Christ that we receive in this Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!