The last moments of most activities are normally very important just as the first moments. It was our last week in the minor seminary as final year students and we were by ourselves in the seminary as the other seminarians were on vacation. We had concluded with our final exams (senior secondary school certificate exams) but the rector Rev. Fr. Anthony Ogbenna (Baba Nto) had asked us to wait so that he could sort out those who would be proceeding to the next step in the training for the priesthood. Obviously we were all eager to go home at least for a moment and get some recreation after going through the rigours of preparing and writing the external exams including the general seminary stress.
One fateful day after the morning mass, the rector announced to us that the nearby rural community would be commencing the celebration of their annual new yam festival and that we should not succumb to the temptation of leaving the compound to join in the activities which he described as mostly pugnacious and perilous. The whole of that day was filled with echoes of melodious celebrative songs and sounds of merriment from the village. We were really stimulated by the sounds and the desire to go out and catch the sights increased by geometric progression. As evening drew near, some people sneaked out into the village to catch up with the sights and sounds supposing that the rector would have retired for the day.
At about 8.00pm the rector emerged and asked everyone to converge at a usual meeting point in front of the chapel. Obviously some people were missing after the roll call. The tactful rector took note and left. By the time he left, some felt that he was done with the checking and left to the village to join in the nocturnal merriment. But they were wrong! At about 10.00pm the rector came out again and called all together and took note; by this time the number had reduced greatly and he released an intelligent smile from one side of his mouth as he took the latest list and left. The most shocking thing was that he appeared again after midnight by that time most of those who left earlier had come back but there were still few who decided to tarry for the night in the village with some friends. The next day was the judgement day! That was actually how the rector sorted out those he forwarded for the continuation of the training; I was just lucky or simply put the grace of God was at work; you need not ask how!
Today marks our entrance into the season of Advent. The word Advent means “coming”. In this context it actually depicts the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ seen in two ways: his coming as a new born child (at Christmas) not in the historic Bethlehem but into our hearts and his Second Coming for the final judgement at the recession of the world. They are both future events and that is why we have the WAITING clause attached to the Advent. In all, we are meant to wait for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ in terms of the aforementioned ways. Furthermore, the vehicle for the WAITING for the COMING is WATCHING.
Watchfulness is a great virtue. It could also be rendered as vigilance, circumspection, awareness, or attentiveness. When someone is waiting for something, there will be every need for the individual to be watchful or vigilant. This is important because one needs to see or observe what one is waiting for so that when it finally arrives one will not be taken by surprise. There is a tendency to wait and not to watch or be vigilant. There is also the tendency to wait and be watchful on the wrong side or to be distracted from what one is waiting for and attending to some other thing. Generally waiting is not enough, one needs to be watchful, vigilant, aware, circumspect and attentive. This was the oversight of the seminarians in the story who were absent when the rector returned at various points.
The three readings for this First Sunday of Advent all agree that we should wait for God. In the First Reading (Is. 40:1-5.9-11) the prophet could simply not wait for the coming of God to happen. With heightened anticipation he decried: “O that you would tear the heavens and come down”. This is like saying in our common slang “I can’t wait”. Furthermore the oracle of the prophet indicated that God works for those who wait for him in amazing ways.
From the words of the prophet you will discover that it is not all about waiting alone but also watchfulness, awareness, attentiveness and vigilance. The attentiveness here can be seen in recognition of the limitations of the people which includes sin. Hence, watchfulness in the context of waiting suggests that we disconnect from sin so that the one we are waiting for will find us in perfect state when he finally comes. We shall hear John the Baptist speak more on this in the course of the season while making reference to the oracle of Isaiah which says we should prepare a way for the Lord and make the paths straight.
Watchfulness in the context of waiting for the coming also suggests that we allow the plan and the will of God to be accomplished in our lives. This is shown forth by the prophet when he said that we are clay and God is the potter. One of the major characteristics of clay is its plasticity that is the quality of being easily shaped or moulded. If God is the potter and we are clay, it follows that we should allow God to shape and mould us this season. Often we think we have all round competence including moulding and shaping God the way we desire that is why today many people command God instead of praying to Him. That is why today preparing for Christmas is entirely carnal with undue busyness without reference to the spiritual.
The same issue of watchfulness meets us in the Gospel Reading today (Mark 13:33-37). Our Lord in his typical pictorial way used the image of a master, servants, and a doorman (porter) to establish the need to be watchful or awake while waiting for the master of the house to come back. It is instructive to know from the gospel context that his time of arrival is unknown to anyone. Ordinarily as human beings we always desire to be given a date or time of someone’s visit and we tend to work with such schedules. God cannot be confined into human timing that is exactly why most people who predicted the time of the end of the world ended up getting it wrong. If we are watchful and vigilant enough we may not have any problem with the exact time because we cannot be found wanting.
To the virtue of watchfulness, our Lord added the quality of prayerfulness. Hence he said: “take heed, watch and pray for you do not know when the time will come”. Note that it is not all about watching while waiting but also praying while waiting and watching. Here we discover that prayer qualifies as an indispensable spiritual component of waiting and watching and also a very needful phenomenon for our Advent journey. Prayer is a very important key we need to adopt
It is indeed very pathetic and regrettable that the world has a very unspiritual approach to this period that precedes the Christmas. People are already erecting Christmas trees, yuletide jingles are already renting the air but we have to pass through the advent before getting into the Christmas. People simply cannot wait and but they have the wrong reasons. The Advent is not just the period that leads us to Christmas, it also a time we are encouraged to prepare for the Second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. There is need for us to step into the ADVENT ATTITUDE. The Advent attitude is that of watchful waiting. The Advent attitude is that of giving God priority in all our plans and aspirations. The Advent attitude is that of PRAYER-FULLNESS yes we have to be PRAYER-FULL not PRAYER-LESS this season of Advent as we watchfully await the coming of the saviour of the world.
Have a glorious Advent season and do not forget to step into the ATTITUDE of prayerful watching as you await the Lord.
Fr. Bonnie (firstname.lastname@example.org)