Saturday, November 30, 2019

From Snoozing to Running

1st Sunday of Advent (A)
Video: YouTube The Straits Times

My dear friends, are you familiar with the phrase to hit the ground running? As you know, it means to start doing something with great speed and enthusiasm, as soon as the opportunity presents itself. We find a striking image of this in today’s issue of The Straits Times, which carries a photograph of 29-year old Mr Jonathan Tan, dashing joyously into the Robinson’s store on Orchard Road, as soon as its doors opened at 7am yesterday morning. Mr Tan was the triumphant first customer at the store’s Black Friday Sale. We might say that, once the sale began, Mr Tan hit the ground running

And it was not by chance that he was able to do this. In order to be first, Mr Tan had taken the trouble to start queuing at the store’s entrance as early as 4am the previous day. No less than 27 hours before opening time! What kept him going?  What motivated him to endure the discomfort? According to The Straits Times, Mr Tan is getting married soon, and was looking for a new mattress and some home appliances. Still, we may wonder whether you really need to camp out overnight just for that.

I’m not sure, my dear friends, but perhaps another commonly used saying can help explain Mr Tan’s endurance and enthusiasm. You may have heard or used it before yourself. The saying is, you snooze, you… lose! It may be that, like any hot-blooded Singaporean, including me, Mr Tan was motivated not just by the hope for great bargains, but also by the desire not to snooze and lose.

Strenuously preparing to hit the ground running, so as to avoid snoozing and losing. Something like this is also what we find in our Mass readings today. The first reading speaks of a day in the future when all the nations will be dashing to the mountain of the Lord, seeking admission to the Temple of the God of Jacob. They go there not to shop for bargains, but to submit to God’s authority. To walk in the paths of the Lord.

And God encourages the House of Jacob to prepare for this day that is still to come, by making every effort to walk in the light of the Lord now. Like those eager shoppers camping outside Robinson’s, Jacob is asked to endure the discomfort of walking in God’s ways in the present, so that when the day of the Lord finally arrives, like Mr Jonathan Tan, Jacob too might be able to hit the ground running.

The other readings issue a similar call to the followers of Christ. To you and to me. As with the House of Jacob, we too are told that a day is coming when the darkness of sin and selfishness will be banished, and the light of God’s love will bathe the whole world in its brilliance. And it’s helpful for us to imagine, if only for a moment, what this day might be like… When pain and suffering are no more… When conflict and terror and war are ended… When hunger and homelessness, apathy and inequality are eradicated… And every tear wiped away… When God’s kingdom will come in all its fullness…

Like enthusiastic shoppers, ready to brave the elements for the sake of gaining their hearts’ desire, our readings warn us to prepare conscientiously for this day’s dawning. Not to allow ourselves to be caught napping. Not to snooze and lose. But what is the spiritual equivalent of roughing it out at the doorstep of Robinson’s, while everyone else sleeps comfortably in their beds?

The second reading offers an answer, by telling us to live in the darkness of our world, as though we were already in the light… Let us live decently as people do in the daytime: no drunken orgies, no promiscuity or licentiousness, and no wrangling or jealousy. Or, to put it another way, allow your desires to be rightly ordered, by centring them on God. Strive to make God your first priority, just as shoppers joyfully make the grabbing of bargains theirs.

And yet, to be fair, my dear friends, preparing for the coming of the Lord is, in some sense, even more demanding than queuing for a Black Friday Sale. For the shoppers waiting outside Robinson’s at least know exactly when the doors will open. Whereas, for us, Jesus says that the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. So that, while shoppers need to be vigilant only when big sales come around. Perhaps no more than a few times a year. A Christian’s whole existence is one long preparation for the coming of the Lord. Ours is a life of constant vigilance. You snooze, you lose!

Thankfully, there is at least one crucially important point, where a Christian actually has it better than a bargain-hunter. Do you know what it is? For shoppers waiting outside a store, the fulfilment of all their hopes happens only when the sale actually begins. Only when those magical doors are finally thrown open. But things are quite different for us Christians. For we believe that our Prize is not just waiting for us behind some closed door that is yet to be opened. On the contrary, we believe that Christ has already come to us. Has already pitched his tent among us. Has already poured out his love and life for us on the Cross. Isn’t this why we gather every week to celebrate the Eucharist? As we give thanks for what we have already received, and continue to receive, in Christ, we help one another to do what the second reading encourages us to do. We prepare for the Lord’s coming again, by letting our armour be the Lord Jesus Christ.

Even so, it’s not easy to remain ever mindful of all these things. Especially not when we may find ourselves overwhelmed by the many cares of daily life. Or distracted by the various passing fancies, unceasingly paraded before our eyes by expert advertising. Which is why we very much need this season of Advent that we are now beginning. A precious time to help us continue preparing to receive the God who is coming, by staying close to the God who has already arrived.

Sisters and brothers, perhaps it’s not too much of a stretch to say that to be a Christian is really to move continually from snoozing and losing to preparing to hit the ground running. What must we do, you and I, to continue moving from one to the other this Advent?

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