Mark 1:1-8, Second Sunday of Advent
When I was a child, my father would accompany me and my brothers (all 8 of us), during the Christmas break, to certain streets in old Manila called Escolta and Rosario, in the old downtown district of Binondo. One year, I remember my father leading us to this brightly-lit big store with a high white ceiling. There were two big shelves on the sides full of Crosman /Benjamin .22-caliber air rifles, long spring-powered .177 rifles, and B.B. guns; and, in front of that wonderful store, all sorts of bicycles of different colors, sizes, and designs for kids. My eyes lit when I entered the store. It was big and it was bright.
“Anong gusto mo, Bert,” asked my father. (I was still called Bert then), “baril or bisikleta? Pumili ka na.” My eyebrows met when he asked that question because I was breathing hard and salivating for both. But I had to choose, “baril o Bisikleta?”
I thought at that time that air guns were for the big boys, like most of my brothers (I was the second to the last child of 12). I could see from the corners of my eyes that they were walking towards the shelves where the guns were displayed. I was sure they would get guns for themselves that Christmas. And even if I could not get an air gun for myself, I knew I could borrow one of those from my brothers, and shoot matchsticks or rats at night. And so I walked to the space where the bikes were, and I chose my Christmas gift. It was going to be my first bike and I was so excited to have it. Now I could bike around the house and around the streets, especially in the same street going to our Lolo Papa’s house that we called, kabila.
The Christmas gifts we chose for ourselves would be locked inside my father’s office which we called the “den“. We could not get them until after Noche Buena, after eating my mother’s favorite dishes – her signature rellenong manok and rellenong bangus, some sweet ham and cheese, ensaymada and hot chocolate. And so there was a time gap of several agonizing days and nights of waiting, anticipating anxiously, excitedly, to reach that moment of opening the den on Christmas Eve.
I remember lying on that sofa in the sala in my pajamas during those evenings before Christmas Eve watching the flicker of the big Christmas tree lights and the Belen décor under the stairs while staring at the door of the den where my precious Christmas gift laid.
“Sana Pasko na,” I told myself.
It is only now that I realized that my father was teaching us, his children, the lesson of Advent and Christmas.
He was the one who was with us in Escolta and Rosario. He was the one who led us to that magical store. He was the one who asked us what we wanted. He was the one who gave us what we desired–all for free. He was also the one who told us to wait until Christmas Eve. And he was the one who watched us hurriedly opening our gifts with a smile on his face while he played Perry Como Christmas carols on the side.
What more or what else could we ask for?
When the Father sent His only begotten Son to us to save us, the Son became like us, one of us, one with us. He served and saved us in the flesh. He let himself suffer and die on the Cross. He let himself die and descend into hell. And when he rose back to Life, he gave us his Spirit to dwell within us as his holy house- our bodies as his living temples; we as “partakers of his divine nature” and images of our Creator; we as called God’s children; we who have been forgiven as we sin; we who have been given eternal life.
What more or what else could we ask for?
When we reflect on the readings of today, we ask ourselves: Sino ba ang naghihintay sa Pasko? Ang Diyos ba o ang tao? O pareho ba kaya? Kung pareho, sino ang unang naghintay at naghihintay? Ang Panginoon ba o tayo? Ano naman ang hinihintay ng Diyos mula sa atin? At ano naman ang hinihintay natin mula sa Kanya?
Why these questions? It is because the second reading from the second Letter of St. Peter says, “but he is being patient with you all, wanting nobody to be lost and everybody to be brought to change his ways.” The Lord is patiently waiting for us to mend our ways and even if it takes us a thousand years or a single day, He still waits. And as He waits, He fulfills His promises, and He is not slow in fulfilling them.
And if we say that we are the ones waiting for the Lord’s Coming, do we really know what we are waiting for? How the Lord will come?
The Second Letter of St. Peter says, “The Day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then with a roar the sky will vanish, the elements will catch fire and fall apart, the earth and all that it contains will be burnt up …the sky will dissolve in flames and the elements melt in the heat.” (2 Peter)
And Isaiah says in the First Reading:
‘Every valley be filled in,
every mountain and hill be laid low.
Every cliff become a plain,
and the ridges a valley;
This is how the glory of the Lord shall be revealed
and all of us shall see it;
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’
Taken literally or figuratively, the Lord comes in Advent with a Big Bang! His coming into our lives reveals His Glory, His power and might, in order to reveal to ourselves our powerlessness and poverty; to show us the truth that we are “not fit to kneel down and undo the strap of his sandals;” that we are even below the lowest servant in the house.
This seems to be quite different from our favorite Christmas carol, at least, at first glance:
Silent night! Holy night! All is calm, all is bright,
‘Round yon virgin mother and Child! Holy Infant, so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace, sleep in heavenly peace.
This Holy Season, we pray for the rarely-asked for grace of the Fear of the Lord ( the Fear that fears no man), a virtue that goes beyond mere respect for ordinary authority- that fear of the Lord that graces us with humility, that trusts in Him alone (that He always fulfills His promises promptly), that makes us praise, honor, adore, worship, revere, glorify and thank Him always. We pray for this holy fear of God who searches our minds and probes our hearts – the Lord God who cuts our hearts of flesh like a two-edged sword. If we fear the Lord, we listen to His Voice and follow His commands. And following His commands brings sweet delight and joy to our hearts.
And we reflect the words of the Prophet Isaiah in the First Reading today:
A voice commands, ‘Cry!’
and I answered, ‘What shall I cry?’
– ‘All flesh is grass
and its beauty like the wildflower’s.
The grass withers, the flower fades
when the breath of the Lord blows on them.
(The grass is without doubt the people.)
The grass withers, the flower fades,
but the Word of our God remains for ever.
Ano kamo? Ang tinig ng Diyos mula sa ilang ay umiyak ka? Tumangis ka? Sa panahon ng Pasko?
We cry when our world is turned upside down. And He will turn our world upside down sometimes, only temporarily, only for a short while, to show to us who the Master and King truly is..
Yes, we cry over the ignorance of the “sins of our youth” when we rode on with the vanities of the world, and filled our inner emptiness with temporal things; when we had forgotten that life is short and fast, and when we misprioritized things; when we made temporal things looked like eternal ones, and when we made eternal things pass away; when we had forgotten that we are like grass that withers, that flesh is like a flower that blooms in the morning, but fades in the evening; when we had not forgotten and forgiven our past, and failed to see the signs, marvels, and wonders of God in the here-and-now; when we lacked hope and faith in God about our future and let our anxieties, fears, and worries overwhelm us.
We cry when we remember how we had wandered for many years from the straight path in vicious circles like a dog trying to catch its tail, and failed to purify our minds and hearts for the coming of the Lord, the Word of the Lord that remains forever.
And so my dear sisters and brothers, in this Advent Season, God waits for us. He is in-waiting, in patience, as He fulfills His promises to us not slowly but promptly. He is the One who waits for us first. He waits for the time when we change our old and former ways, when we begin to see the meaning of his signs, marvels, and wonders.
Yet in this Advent Season, we also wait for His coming. We can only know how to wait and recognize Christ’s coming if we become once more tiny babes like the Child in the Manger – vulnerable, humble, simple, and pure.
Scripture says, “What we are waiting for is what he promised: the new heavens and new earth, the place where righteousness will be at home. So then, my friends, while you are waiting, do your best to live lives without spot or stain so that he will find you at peace.”
In this Advent Season, God and us-we wait for each other. Naghihintayan tayo. But like a chess game with God playing white, and we playing black, it is time for us to move. And when we make the right move to encounter Him, we will truly witness the peace, joy, and love that Christmas brings – the Christmas gifts that surpass our human understanding, the graces that this world can never give.
After I opened my bisikleta Christmas gift from my father that Christmas Eve, I had a sleepless night. I was like a cowboy in a rodeo except that the rider this time was the wild animal. But like any other toy, I outgrew that bike. The next Christmas, I did not get a baril because I did not ask for it. I asked for a Spalding basketball instead. The same routine, the same street, the same store. I, again, got what I asked for that Christmas.
Sa Paskong ito, tatanungin tayo ng Diyos Ama, “Anak, ano ang gusto mo? Baril ba o Bisikleta?”
Sana ang tugon natin, “Ikaw.”
*image from the Internet