Many might have forgotten how many predictions we have had of the end of the world this 2020. The most recent is the prediction by Evangelical Pastor Paul Begley who announced that doomsday will strike on December 21, 2020, which happens to be also his birthday. But prior to Begley, some conspiracy theorists, using the Mayan calendar, had already suggested the world would come to an end on June 21 this year. The last time I checked, June 21 has passed. You may also have heard of Jean Dixon, a prominent self-acclaimed psychic and astrologer who just is certain that Armageddon will occur this 2020. She has given and updated a number of dates. I haven’t checked to see her latest revision of the date. Of course, none of those predictions came true, nor would any such spurious predictions ever materialize, per Jesus’ words. The only reliable prediction is the new liturgical year, given by the Church, today November 29th. And today, we enter a new phase in our relationship with our God as we prepare to reenact that saving mission through His Son, whose twofold coming we await: First, this Advent, and second, His final coming as judge of the world, which we cannot predict, but must spend every day of our life in joyful longing.
As indicated last Sunday, we concluded our reading of the gospel of Matthew and today we begin reading the gospel of Mark. St. Mark will be the captain steering the ship in our spiritual oasis as we journey through a more intentional living of our relationship as disciples of the Lord. A peculiar characteristic of Mark’s gospel is its brevity—he goes straight to the point. On this first Sunday of Advent, he emphasizes the word “watch,” exhorting us to be constantly alert because we cannot make predictions about the Lord’s coming. This sounds like a sober and salutary way to enter into the season of Advent and aligns with the etymology the word Advent, which means “coming.”
Each of us must have waited for something or someone—an important guest—to arrive. Even the most carefree among us would try to do some cleanup, get rid of unwanted stuff, and maybe bring in something new, apply some air-freshener to make more inviting the room where we’ll put our guest. In marketing, what drives the “sale” is the need to update inventory. So, toward the end of the year, big businesses offer for sale at incredibly reduced prices items they want to replace, in order to make room for the new. When I watched last Black Friday at the scramble for cheap items, I wished we could learn to remove from our spiritual storeroom items clogging them which are no longer needed to ensure progress in our spiritual journey. The import of Advent is to help us update our inventory of spiritual goods. In order to make room for a fresh outpouring of love, compassion, integrity, order, and composure, we’ll have to get rid of the hatred that we have harbored, the gossip and uncharitable words that have become part of our everyday language, our cranky and irritable words that cause fights, the greed that impoverishes others, and the pride that makes us feel a need to push others aside. We can gather these together, and as we take out our trash and deposit them in the garbage bins every Friday for disposal by the city trash collectors, so we can bring the piles of garbage in our souls to sacramental confession. Priests are true Church trash collectors who, in the confessional, nicely gather our piles of garbage and carry them to the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world.
Jesus, as well as Paul, asks us to watch, be alert, take a good look at our inner self, wake up from our spiritual stupor, cast away deeds of darkness, be sober and calmly wait for the Lord’s return. As we navigate today’s dangerous spiritual terrain infested with landmines of moral relativism, emboldened display of evil, lies and deceit, we need to have our grips firmly on our steering wheel, our eyes set clearly on the road to the kingdom, and our every faculty purified by grace, so we may avoid a deadly spiritual crash. Many souls have crashed, and some irreparably; so be careful and listen to the admonition!
Fr. Jo Chukwudi Okonkwo