Spiritual Vigilance: Stay Awake!
First Sunday of Advent, Year A, November 2022, Holy Cross Parish, Apo, Abuja. Homily by Archbishop I. A. Kaigama, 27.11.2022
Readings: Isaiah 2:1-5, Romans 13:11-14, Matthew 24:37-44
Spiritual Vigilance: Stay Awake!
The prophet Isaiah in the first reading today, lifts up our spirits with his vision of the imminent reign of peace to be initiated by the coming of the Messiah. He envisions a period when the culture of war shall be transformed into a time of peace. He says, “…They shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore” (Is. 2:4).
The people of Israel had suffered the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 587 B.C in the hands of the Babylonians. After this terrible experience, Israel could no longer depend on a human “redeemer” but on divine intervention that would result in peace and harmony.
Advent, a word which comes from Latin “adventus,” and means “coming” or “arrival,” is a period of spiritual watchfulness, vigilance and preparation to welcome our Lord Jesus at Christmas. Christ’s Advent is threefold: It is a joyful and expectant, prayerful wait, to commemorate His historical birth; His coming in the here and now, especially in the celebration of the sacraments and in the life of the poor and the oppressed, and as we welcome Him into our lives with affection and love, and His Second coming, the Parousia, as the judge of the living and the dead, coming at an hour we do not expect (cf. Mt. 24:42-44).
Jesus tells us that there are two choices we can make in life to live in comfort and sin or to live in vigilance and righteousness. The intervention by the Lord is meant to bring about peace to our homes, peace to reign in our walls and in our palaces (cf. Ps. 122:6-7). St. Mother Theresa remarked: “Today, if we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” Sadly, our society is faced with so many challenges that take away our peace. Instead of living together in harmony, we see more divisions, and hatred. It is only when we allow Christ to reign in our hearts that we can experience lasting peace.
The traditional signs of Advent are visible around us; the purple vestments of the priests and altar cloths, the absence of decorative flowers, and the Advent wreath. Each candle represents one of the blessings of Christmas; hope, peace, joy and love. The first candle lighted today represents hope, the kind of hope that still believes that even when things go quite to the contrary, there is something bigger and positive waiting ahead.
St. Paul in the second reading, reminds us that salvation is ever nearer; each day is a day closer to the day of the Lord. He calls us to waken from our spiritual and moral slumber by laying aside the works of darkness and putting on the amour of light. St. Paul’s advice urging us to good conduct, against all ‘orgies and drunkenness, promiscuity and lust, rivalry and jealousy’ (Rm. 13:13) is very valid today. We must be more discerning in these difficult and rather complicated times for “Our salvation is even nearer.” St. Paul calls us to invite the Holy Spirit of God to be present in everything we do and to constantly remind ourselves of what God expects of us, and what God is also saying to us in the daily events of life.
Saint Matthew in the gospel reading suggests that the end will come unexpectedly, probably at a time of peace and flourishing prosperity, when people are making merry, living the usual lives, working in the fields, grinding at the mill, marrying wives and husbands and carrying out their business plans. We must avoid every tendency to be carried away by too much emphasis on the cares and necessities of life; the material preparations that are common with Christmas, what dresses to wear, journeys to make, etc, in such a manner that we lose focus on our heavenly goal. We are reminded that the Lord Jesus will come to us at any given moment without an appointment or an advance party, so, a truly alert Christian must be ready at all times.
I am delighted to see that in this Mass, we have 261 candidates ready to receive the sacrament of confirmation and 10 intending couples ready to exchange marriage vows. This is a good sign of spiritual preparedness; that the candidates for confirmation will receive the Holy Spirit to fortify their faith and help them prove strong and mature Catholics ready to meet the Lord whenever He comes. The intending spouses entering into marriage to build Christian homes are inviting Jesus to be at the centre of their lives together. Nowadays, what we see is that marriages take place with such pomp, glamour and extravagant expenses, but soon crumble because they were not rooted in Christ and directed by the Holy Spirit. I urge you intending spouses, to be true companions to each other, to support each other in faith and to keep your marriage anchored on Christ.
St. Paul urges us to “lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armour of light.” The works of darkness include; violence, lust, drunkenness, jealousy, anger, quarrel, hatred, malice and any form of hostility that build a wall of discrimination against people. In putting on the armour of light, we are called to be clothed in virtue and strive to treat one another with respect, dignity, love and compassion, working out our salvation with fear and trembling (cf. Phil. 2:12). Let us not be like the people of the days of Noah when people ate and drank; married and were given in marriage, until the flood came and swept them away, but we must be like Noah who never got carried away; he was ready for the flood because he heard carefully the voice of God and did all as God had commanded him.
During this special time as we try to return to our God that He may let His face shine on us, I invoke the graces of the season of Advent upon your Parish Priest, Rev. Fr. Clement Ujah and his assistant, Rev. Fr. Charles Onyeneke, the parish pastoral council, and indeed all the parishioners of Holy Cross Parish, Apo, and I remind us to remain ever vigilant to welcome the Lord at Christmas.
Happy Advent Season.