Archbishop John Wong presiding the Mass

By Agnes Chai

Dec 2 2020

KOTA KINABALU – Advent calls us to wake up, to shake off the dust of routine, old habit and to let Christ come alive in our lives once more.

A powerful imagery to wake us from the slumber of complacency and to prepare vigorously for the coming of Christ, delivered by Archbishop John Wong in his homily during the First Sunday of Advent Mass Nov 29. This was the first public Mass since the churches were allowed to reopen in recent days, which was also beamed from Sacred Heart Cathedral to the homes of those who could not make it to the physical Eucharist.

Advent means “waiting for someone to come”, the prelate explains. Who is coming? Jesus Christ is coming!

But, the Archbishop warns, we can be caught up with our planning for Christmas that we forget the reason for our preparation. Therefore, he suggests, the Church helps us to remember by heeding the words of Jesus as He invites us to “stay awake – be vigilant” – being the central theme of the Gospel for this First Advent Sunday.

The Church liturgy provided a short parable about a master who had a number of servants to accompany our Advent journey. The master needed to travel abroad and instructed his servants to be responsible with the jobs he gave them, and that they were not to fall asleep on their job. He particularly singled out the “doorkeeper” with a special warning “When I return, I must not find you asleep. So stay awake.”

Interestingly, Christ’s story ends with the same warning. The prelate suggests to have a closer look at the “doorkeeper”. Who is he? What would happen to him? As a doorkeeper, perhaps the “greatest danger” that he faces is not so much that he may fall asleep on the job but that of getting used to it that it becomes just a job and nothing more.

The prelate offers an analogy of a doorkeeper who receives an assignment from his master: first he likes the assignment and is excited about it; he feels honored and is proud of the task; he loves his uniform which gives him an air of authority; and so he carries out his task with joy and enthusiasm.

He continues, as time goes by: opening and closing the door becomes monotonous; becomes a deadly routine of the same actions and boredom slowly creeps in; he loses interest, enthusiasm and joy in performing his task; and the assignment becomes a habit, just going through the motions.

In comparison, it can so easily happen to us that we become Christians by habit only – going through the daily motions without knowing what we are doing, cautions Archbishop Wong.

“We might be praying many times a day, doing a lot of devotional piety, receiving the Sacraments, attending many seminars, participating or being active in the activities of many groups/communities/ministries without knowing the real purpose of all these activities that we do,” says the prelate.

Therefore, Advent is the opportune time “to wake up, to shake off the old habit” so that “Christ comes alive in our lives once more”. We do this by being aware that He is coming to us. We become “alive in Christ” by being “ever ready to live fully in His grace and mercy, and in living in accord with His perfect will”.

A good way to check on ourselves, suggests Archbishop Wong, is to ask ourselves “If His return were at this moment, how aware and prepared am I?”

Or would we, as the prophet Isaiah in the First Reading suggests, be blaming God for our sins/mistakes in misusing the freedom that He has given us “Why, Lord, leave us to stray from your ways and harden our hearts against fearing you?”

Or, in our awareness we would confess our fault/sin “Behold, you were angry when we were sinners” and acknowledge that sin separates us from God; and possess the confidence that the Lord would come to the aid of humanity “O God, return for the sake of your servants …you would tear the heavens open and come down…”

At the beginning of a new Liturgical Year, let us then heed His words to us “to prepare ourselves, to stay awake; not with fear, but with vigilance for His coming”, that we may receive expectant help from Him, “God of hosts, bring us back; let your face shine on us and we shall be saved.”