Articles : THE PATH TO THE CHANGEPosted on: 2015-11-28
Source: Rev. Fr. John Toye Olayiwola
The period between November-ending to the time of Christmas means different things to different people. It does not matter which religion one belongs to, for the majority, it is the time to change the wardrobe: a time to buy new clothes, new shoes, new jewels and so on. For business people, it is a time to make more money; perhaps, a time to exploit customers who are desperate to get the items bought. By this time, those selling animals like chickens, turkeys, goats will be warming up for the interest they will make from those who feel it is compulsory to taste those animals on Christmas Day. For drivers, it is a period to increase transport fare since many will necessary have to board. But are all these the only things this period is meant for? Indeed, there is nothing wrong in preparing for Christmas. But there is everything wrong in preparing for Christmas in a wrong way by means of extortion, exploitation, recklessness and other vices that have come to be associated with this Holy Season. In the Catholic Church, this period is one of the most significant. It is called the season of Advent. The Gregorian calendar begins on 1st January and ends on 31st December. However, for the Church, the first day of her (liturgical) calendar begins on the first Sunday of Advent.
Some of us have the nostalgia of being visited by people we consider august in our lives and communities. When we get notice to be visited by someone, we surely have to make some preparation for the coming of the person. Of course, the degree of our preparation will be conditioned by the type of the visitor we expect and his or her relationship with us. If a community is to welcome the president of this country, the preparation will be different from when it is to welcome a counsellor. If one expects one of one’s colleagues, one will surely prepare as such. But, there are some persons we prepare for their visits with a joyful expectation and we do our best to put things in order to give them the best; not because we are afraid of being punished by them if we fail to prepare well-as it would be if a community did not prepare well for the coming of the Emperor or the king in the ancient time; or the presidents and governors in our time-but because of who they are to us: LOVERS! No reasonable person would want to be meant unprepared when visited by a lover! Such is what we do in the Church in the season of Advent. We are making the best preparation to welcome our Lord and Love: Jesus, the Christ.
The word advent is derived from the Latin word: adventus which translates the Greek parousia which refers to the second coming of Christ. However, in the Roman history, it means a period of preparation for the reception of the Emperor; while in other ancient but non Roman cultures, it points to the period of preparation for the coming of their kings. In either case, what matters is that it has to with preparation for the reception of an important figure.
The Church adopted and adapted this into her liturgy. This gives to it a new but related sense. Liturgy has to do with the re-enactment of the Paschal Mystery. It is making present or re-living those mysteries that happened when God became a human being. Therefore, the season of Advent seeks to put us in the mood the ancient people were-more than two thousand years ago-when they were waiting for the appearing of the Redeemer. It echoes the message as it was done before the birth of the Messiah; and it wants us to prepare as the good ones among them did; for many who heard the announcement of the coming of the Christ ignored it. Perhaps, the situation is not much different in our world today.
The season confers a double sense of preparation: the first I already spoke of a bit: getting us to be in the mood of the longing of the ancient people. This will lead us, like them, to the joy of the birth of Christ which we celebrate at Christmas. The second is the parousia: the second coming of Christ. This too is in two forms: the final coming of Christ in glory as the Lord and Judge of the world he came to redeem in his first coming (Mt 25:31-46); and his coming to each of us at death.
The season has been through modifications in the Church. Initially, it used to be a time people used to prepare in fasting and prayer and sacramental confessions before the reception of the Holy Communion at Christmas. However, it sooner or later came to be known as a season of general preparation by the whole Church to welcome her Lord who she will welcome finally at the close of the ages. So, each Christmas reminds us of the coming that Christ has made and the one he will still make.
As remarked before, ancient kings, just as present day presidents do through their ambassadors, usually sent message of their coming to the concerned communities. This was to allow the communities to make adequate arrangements. Hence, the kings retained all the rights to be angry with any community that failed to measure up to their expectation. This practice-I mean of sending message of notification ahead-is truer in the case of Christ the King. The whole of the Old Testament, particularly, the prophetic books, are meant to be messages of announcement of the coming of the Messiah. Nonetheless, as the time draw nearer, a specific messenger was sent to herald his coming. Many of us, following tradition, know him as John the Baptist. However, without doing away with his traditional name, I want to address him here with the title with which he addressed himself in the gospel tradition voice (Jn 1:23).
There is so much to learn from this man sent from the side of God (Jn 1:6) to get the people set for the coming of Jesus. It is not impossible that sometimes, the sent is mistaken for the sender. This happened in the case of the Baptist. Looking at his words and works, many Jews concluded hastily that he was the Messiah. John had all the opportunity to claim to be who he was not; but he did not. He did not take a wrong chance or make the people to embrace a false hope. Therefore, when the Pharisees sent messengers to ask him about his identity, St John the evangelist puts the Baptist’s response in a double emphatic form: “he declared, he did not deny but declare” (Jn1:20) that he was not the Messiah. I wonder how many of us can be that humble! How many of us will not take the opportunity and proclaim to be satisfied with our lowly status? One virtue we must take in as we wait for Christ is humility: recognising that we are mere ensouled body or an embodied soul.
Call to Repentance
John began his mission by calling the people to repentance and conversion (Mk 1:15). The message of repentance keys Advent into its penitential character. This season shares a lot in common with the season of Lent. If we look at it from the dimension of liturgy, we will understand this better. The liturgical colour, like in Lent, is purple. This symbolises simplicity, lowliness and contrition we are called to during this season. The liturgy becomes simpler and is filled with a spirit of a change of heart.
John preached repentance as a necessary condition for the reception of the Christ. So, what is repentance? The English word repentance translates the Greek metanoia and the Hebrew suvah. In Hebrew, to suv is to make a complete turning from a point to another. In a religious sense, it means turning away completely from a sinful state to a holy state. It means turning away totally from anything that is ungodly to that which is godly. This is much more pertinent in our country. The path to the change we need in the country is that of inner change or conversion. It would be a mere ideology if we refuse to embrace a new way of thinking and of acting. If we go on talking about change while we remain in our usual corrupt ways of acting, we may end up painting the old racketing bus in a new colour. It does not make any difference. The bus remains the same despite the external camouflage.
John furthered his message by asking the people to make a highway for the Lord in the desert. This message quotes Isaiah 40:3-5. The prophet Isaiah made that oracle when the people were in exile in Babylon. It was given when Yahweh was about to set the people free. So, the highway was the path that led from Babylon to Israel. It is a way that led from slavery to liberty. Nonetheless, we can think of another highway, the way that led from Egypt through the Red Sea; through the desert to the Promised Land.
One common thing to the two is that they both led from captivity to liberty; from slavery to freedom. Now, as at the time that John missioned in Israel, the people were in their land. Then, it could only be the case that the highway John was talking about was different. The highway was spiritual. It was to be made in the people’s hearts. It is a path that leads them out of the highest slavery: enslavement to sin.
Like the people of old, we all need to make this highway. We all need to make the journey in our hearts. Deep within us, we have areas we want hidden from the public. We know those things in which we are locked up or in which we lock up ourselves saying to ourselves: “I cannot come out of this. I cannot stop doing this.” That is our captivity. The Lord wants to lead us out if only we let him. We must stop thinking we are going to die in the land of slavery. With God, there is no impossibility.
Call to Charity
The message of the voice did not end with call to repentance and the making of a highway; he also called the people to charity (Lk 3:10-14). I want to re-echo that message today. As we prepare to welcome Christ, we must not forget that we meet and welcome him (Christ) daily in the poor. Many of us often forget to include the poor in our plans for Christmas. We are good at rationalizing issues. We make justifications for not doing what we are supposed to do. That is a bit worrisome. We should be vanguards and models of charity. I wish to remind us of the statement of Pope St John Paul II: “nobody is so poor that he or she has nothing to give.” It is not so much about the quantity we have or give; it depends rather on the spirit with which we do it.
As noted at the beginning of this piece, the preparation for Christmas affects not just Christians but almost everyone-although differently. I remember how, as children, we usually dreamt of Christmas. At least, we were sure to get new attires and pairs of shoes. There is nothing wrong buying new things at Christmas if one can. Nonetheless, the shopping I want us to do is within. Let us go into the treasuries of our hearts and take out the old things in them: malice, hatred, jealousy, backbiting and many other vices in us. Then, let us proceed on shopping for the virtues that must not be found wanton in our souls, namely: faith, hope, charity, reconciliation, justice, prudence, temperance, fortitude, truthfulness, forgiveness and all other virtues that Christ wants to find in us. I am sure these will make us more radiant at Christmas than any other jewellery we may put on.
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