Sunday, December 01, 2013

Rising To The Advent Challenge

1st Sunday of Advent (A)

Sisters and brothers, do you recognise the name Yusman Wright? Those of you who do will know that it belongs to the 43-year-old real estate agent who won this year’s Mediacorp Subaru Challenge. You know, of course, what the Subaru Challenge is, right? It’s an annual endurance contest held in front of Ngee Ann City along Orchard Road. 400 contestants compete with one another to see which one of them can  keep the palm of one hand on a car for the longest period of time. The winner gets to keep the car. This year, the prize was a Subaru Forester 2.0i Premium, worth S$85,000 (less COE). And Yusman Wright beat all his fellow contestants with a winning time of 75 hours and 1 minute. Imagine that. Keeping your hand on a car for 75 hours. That’s more than 3 days! Quite a feat. Especially if you consider that the contest is held out in the open. Exposed to sun and rain. Not only that, but this was actually Yusman’s 5th attempt.

What do you think, sisters and brothers? What is it that drives someone like Yusman Wright to keep entering a contest like this, year after year? What is it that enables him to keep his hand glued to a car, without caring about anything else? Oblivious to pain and discomfort? Heedless of any other distraction? According to Yusman it’s all about focus. This is what he told the press after his win: if you join with the right focus in the mind… if you just go on what you want to achieve... win this car, then just focus on that. I think it's all in the mind…

Just focus… It’s all in the mind… Much easier said than done, right? And yet, this man was able to do it. He was able to focus only on winning the car. And if he was able to do this, it must have been because he wanted it really badly. His desire was strong. The car’s appeal irresistible. Such that he just could not bring himself to let it go. The strength of desire. And the power of attraction. Surely these must have been the things that enabled Yusman to rise to the Subaru Challenge.

The strength of desire and the power of attraction. These are also the  things that we find in our Mass readings, on this 1st Sunday of Advent. In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah speaks to us of a great prize that is waiting to be won. A prize far more precious than a brand new SUV parked in front of Ngee Ann City. The prize is the very presence of God Himself. Isaiah proclaims that a time is coming when the God of Israel, who lives in the Temple on Mount Zion, will make his Presence known to the whole world. God will wield authority over the nations, and God’s reign will bring true peace. Nation will not lift sword against nation, there will be no more training for war.

And it is because of this great prize, it is out of their desire for this precious gift, that people from all nations will be attracted to Mount Zion. They will be drawn to it irresistibly. They will leave their respective countries and go to where God is. Much like those 400 contestants in the Subaru Challenge detached themselves from the comfort of their own homes. But only so that they could attach themselves to their desired prize. I rejoiced when I heard them say: ‘Let us go to God’s house.’ Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord!

The strength of desire and the power of attraction. A desire that leads people to search relentlessly for God. An attraction that moves people to disregard all distractions, and to focus on God alone. A desire and an attraction that enables people to claim the prize of peace in the presence of God. Much like how Yusman Wright kept entering the Subaru Challenge, kept his hand stuck to the car, until he won it. But let’s face it. Not everyone is a Yusman Wright. Not everyone is able to do this. Not everyone can remain focused on the prize, focused on God, in this way. It’s not an easy thing to do.

As Jesus tells us in the gospel, on the day when the Son of Man comes of two men in the fields one is taken, one left; of two women at the millstone grinding, one is taken, one left. When God comes to visit us, bringing the prize of peace, not all will be able to receive it. Some of us will not meet the grade. Why? Not so much because God is stingy. But more because our desire may just not be strong enough. The attraction we feel for God not powerful enough. We may allow themselves to be distracted by many other things. By eating, drinking, taking wives, taking husbands… Also by buying condominiums, enrolling children in the best pre-schools and tuition centres, fretting over PSLEs and IB programmes, worrying about KPIs and other measures of productivity. Not that all these things are bad in themselves. In many cases, they are important and necessary. But we need to take care that we do not let our concern for all these things make us lose our focus on God. Make us lose touch with the concerns of God. By all means work in the field. Grind at the millstone. But always remain focused on God.

Isn’t this what Jesus means when he tells us to stay awake? To stand ready? Even as we may busy ourselves with many things, we need to somehow remain in contact with God. Remain in touch with our desire for God. Continue to feel the attractiveness of God. St. Paul speaks of the same thing in terms of light and darkness. The night is almost over, he writes, it will be daylight soon. The night of selfishness and loneliness. Of resentment and vengefulness. Of jealousy and greed. Of pain and sorrow. All this will soon be no more. On the day when the Lord comes. But to win this prize. To share in this light. To experience this peace. We must keep training our desire. We need to continue cultivating our attraction to the Light. This may be easier for those of us experiencing darkness of some kind. Those undergoing pain and suffering in some way. Our experience of darkness can help us to deepen our desire for God. To increase our attraction to the Light. We keep crying out to God, until God hears and answers us.

But, even if we may not be experiencing darkness in our own lives, we should not fail to notice that we live in a very dark world. A world where many continue to suffer terribly. People like the victims of a terrible typhoon in a distant land. But also people much closer to home. People who may be living as close to us as the room next door to our own. Or even in our own bed. People who need us to reach out to them in some way. In care and compassion. To make their concerns our own. Isn’t this how we can do what St. Paul tells us to do in the second reading? To let our armour be the Lord Jesus Christ. To put on Christ. To make his concerns our concerns. And his concerns are always for the poorest and most needy of all.

Sisters and brothers, Yusman Wright was able to rise to the Subaru Challenge by remaining focused on the prize. A brand new SUV. Advent is a time for us to sharpen our focus on God. To increase our desire for the things of God. To deepen our attraction to the concerns of God. So that we can claim the prize of God’s Coming.

What can you do to rise to our Advent Challenge today?


  1. Those hands breaking the bread are full of life for me....they remind me of something I can not define, even so, I like them very much, and I feel very safe just looking at them....

  2. I like the point 'We must keep training our desire'. Yes - I must work on 'training and building up my desire (for God).

    Thank you and God bless

  3. This Advent, as we draw near to God who continues to come to us - in His own time and way - let us dare to allow us to be broken by the Lord - to let ourselves be used by Him.

    As children of a Loving Father, let us listen to Him, to His gentle voice speaking within our hearts... let us obey Him and do as He tells us, just as Our Blessed Lady and St Joseph did.

    As the Lord comes, may we open our hearts and remain AVAILABLE to HIM....

    Come Lord Jesus : M -- A -- R -- A -- N -- A -- T -- H -- A.

    Seeing Is Believing
    3 December 2013