“Bring in the Candles”, by Fr. Robert Manansala, OFM

The late US President John F. Kennedy is said to be very fond of a particular story. During his 1960 presidential campaign, he often used it to close his speeches. It is the story of Colonel Davenport, Speaker of the Connecticut House of Representatives back in 1789.

One day, while the House was in session, the sky of Hartford, Connecticut suddenly grew dark and gloomy. Some of the representatives looked out the windows and thought this was a sign that the end of the world had come. An uproar ensued with the representatives calling for immediate adjournment. But Davenport rose and said, “Gentlemen, the Day of Judgment is either approaching or it is not. If it is not, there is no cause for adjournment. If it is, I choose to be found doing my duty. Therefore, I wish that candles be brought.” Candles were brought and the session continued.

Davenport was ready for the coming of the Lord and, for him, the best way to face the Lord that was by being faithful to the mission that He had entrusted to him up to the end.

We begin today another liturgical year with the Season of Advent. The four-week Season of Advent focuses not only on relieving the longing of the people in the past as they joyfully anticipated the coming of God’s Messiah, of how our loving God inserted Himself in history through the birth of Jesus in our midst but also on the Lord’s continuing coming in the present and on his future coming. Jesus’ threefold Advent or coming – yesterday, today and tomorrow are all covered by the Season of Advent and even by our readings today on this First Sunday of Advent.

This spirit of Advent is intended not only to help us prepare for another commemoration of Christmas this year but also to accompany us in our on-going journey through life, which must be characterized by the search for and openness to God until we finally enter into the fullness of God’s presence for all eternity.

The First Reading focuses more on the coming of the Messiah in history. It reminds us of the Prophet Jeremiah’ prophecy of the sure coming of the Messiah from the Davidic royal lineage who would do what was right and just. In fact, this Lord would be called Justice.

The First Letter to the Thessalonians looks forward to the final coming of the Lord Jesus Christ as the very climax of human experience. On our part, it is extremely important that we prepare for this event – by truly embracing the imperative to practice love and seek holiness as we wait for this climax of human history.

Today’s Gospel passage from Luke, which is heavily apocalyptic in imagery depicting cosmic upheavals and disturbances, also anticipates the Second Coming of the Lord and highlights the attitudes and behaviors that must characterize this joyful anticipation. We need to be aware and to be vigilant of the eventual coming of the Lord.

How do we really prepare for the coming of the Lord, whether in commemoration of his historical coming at Christmas, or in openness to his coming through the sacraments, in prayer, in the events of our lives and in the faces of others, especially the poor and the needy, or in joyful and faith-filled anticipation of his definitive coming at the end of the world and of time?

In this task, we find the importance of Advent. Advent is not just a preparatory season of four weeks before Christmas; it is a spirit that must imbue not only our preparations for Christmas but our entire lives. The Advent spirit is the spirit of ardent longing for God and His manifold presence and this longing is something that has been planted by God in the heart of every person. During this Season of Advent, we are asked to especially focus on re-enkindling this thirst in us that deeply longs for God, the Divine, the Ultimate Reality. This Season must make us again realize that all our longings, especially our deepest and most authentic longings, have ultimately something to do with God. St. Augustine beautifully expressed it, “Out hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.”

For us Christians, this ardent longing for God that is present in every restless heart has found its object in the person of Jesus Christ. It is not a search for God that is without any direction, without any object. In fact, this search in the heart of every person has come from God for we cannot even venture to seek God without Him first seeking us. And this journey can only be embarked with God for God Himself is the companion and the object of this search.

Thus, the main message of the Year of Faith is very important for us to remember as we begin this Season of Advent. The Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI, in opening the Year of Faiths through the document Porta Fidei, has asked us to return to Jesus, to renew our seeking and reflecting of the face of Jesus.

The Year of Faith is summoning us “to an authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord, the One Savior of the world” (Porta Fidei 6), to experience conversion to Jesus in a new way, to turn back to Jesus, to enter into a deeper relationship with Him and to truly live our identity and mission as disciples of the Lord.

The Year of Faith and the Season of Advent are asking us “to keep our gaze fixed upon Jesus Christ, the ‘pioneer and perfecter of our faith’ (Heb 12:2)”. The Holy Father writes that in Jesus “all the anguish and all the longing of the human heart finds fulfillment. The joy of love, the answer to the drama of suffering and pain, the power of forgiveness in the face of an offence received and the victory of life over the emptiness of death: all this finds fulfillment in the mystery of his Incarnation, in his becoming man, in his sharing our human weakness so as to transform it by the power of his resurrection” (Porta Fidei).

Thus, the example of Colonel Davenport during this time of Advent is extremely important. We need to get down to work – the work of truly knowing, loving and following Jesus, the work of discipleship, the work of the mission of Christ, the work for personal conversion, ecclesial renewal and social transformation after the values of the Kingdom of God, and the work for authenticity of our lives as Christians.

The Season of Advent enjoins us to be ready and vigilant? And how do we show our readiness and vigilance? Our readings today give us directions. By the practice of love for one another and for all, by being blameless before the Lord, conducting ourselves in way that pleases God, always seeking to be holy as God is holy, by having hearts that are not drowsy because of sinfulness and vices and anxieties of this life, by praying always for strength and courage in facing life’s tribulations. In short, we prepare for the coming of the Lord by being good, holy, faithful, loving and hope-filled servants and followers of Him.

We all know that the experiences of personal, family, world and cosmic disturbances and upheavals can weaken our hearts and kill our spirits. They can crush us down and disorient us. In the face of all these happenings, we need to fix our gaze on Jesus, to stand erect and raise our heads because our Lord is with us and will always be with us no matter what – bringing ultimately His definitive redemption.

The Spanish “Mas” is “more” in English. For me, Christmas is more of Christ. We celebrate Christmas every year so that we can receive more and more Christ in our hearts, in our lives, in our families and in our world and, in the process, we hope to become more like Christ and become truly grounded in Him in all things. But sad to say, people can celebrate Christmas without Christ at the center of the celebrations and commemorations. The Season of Advent reminds us there is no Christmas without Christ.

The Holy Father Pope Benedict has been asking the young people not to be afraid to receive Jesus in their lives. I think the same holds true for everyone. The Holy Father has said:

“If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide. Only in this friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed. Only in this friendship do we experience beauty and liberation… Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything. When we give ourselves to him, we receive a hundredfold in return. Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ – and you will find true life.”

Let me end with a scene in the move “Fireproof”. The movie starts with a married couple of 7 years who are experiencing some marital problems. After a heated argument, the wife named Catherine decides to file for divorce. The Spirit-filled father of Caleb, the husband of Catherine, asks his son to hold for 40 days and follow some day-to-day advice taken from his treasured notebook. During these 40 days, Caleb does not only discover and love Catherine in a new way, despite her resistance. Most important is that he discovers God in his life. As a result, he becomes a changed man capable of truly loving his wife, himself and others in the Lord.

When the two get reconciled towards end of the story, Catherine tells her husband: “Something has changed in you. And I want what happened to you to happen to me.” Caleb tells Catherine, “It can.”

Caleb has found Christ and his life, his person, his marriage have changed. This is what happens when we really allow Christ more in our hearts and in our lives to transform us. The Season of Advent, in a special way, must do this for us. Then, hopefully Christmas really becomes more of Christ.

About Fr. Robert and his reflections