1st Sunday of Advent (B)
(Day 3 of SFX Triduum)
Readings: Isaiah 63:16-17,64:1,3-8; Psalm 79(80):2-3,15-16,18-19; 1 Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 13:33-37
My dear friends, do you dance? Can you tell me how many people it takes to dance? Well, it depends on the dance, right? For example, have you heard of something called Zumba? It’s a dance exercise that’s quite popular where I come from. Perhaps it’s popular here too. Although Zumba is more fun when done in a group, you could just as easily do it on your own. If you know the moves. But then there are also certain dances that require a partner. For example, haven’t we all heard the saying, it takes two to tango? However skilled a dancer you may be, you simply cannot do the tango alone. You need a partner. Someone able and willing to match your moves with his/her own. Unlike Zumba, the tango cannot be done on one’s own. And if you’re dancing on your own, then most likely it’s not the tango.
I mention this because the same can be said about the theme that we’ve chosen for our triduum in honour of St Francis Xavier. Like the tango, the dance of missionary discipleship simply cannot be done alone. Which is something that those of us who were here the last two nights may already have realised. As you may recall, we have been suggesting that there are 3 R’s to missionary discipleship. On Thursday we reflected on the first R. Do you still remember what it is? Receptivity and responsiveness. The ability graciously to receive and generously to respond to the call of Christ. And last night we considered the second R. Namely? … Recognition and resilience. The ability, in times of darkness, to see visions in the night. To recognise the encouraging signs of God’s enduring presence. And so to be resilient. To retain our proper shape as faithful followers of Christ.
Receptivity and responsiveness. Recognition and resilience. Notice how each of these qualities have to do with a partnership. We try to be receptive and responsive, only because we believe that there is Someone Else who is offering something to us. Someone Else who is calling out to us. And what we try to recognise are signs of the presence of Someone Else. Just as we try to remain resilient in following in the footsteps of Another. And that’s not all. More than that, as you may also have noticed, the qualities of receptivity and responsiveness, of recognition and resilience, are not things that we can attain on our own. They are gifts that we are begging God, in this triduum, to continue bestowing upon us. As individuals, as families, and as a parish community… To make us more receptive and responsive to God’s call. More able to recognise the signs of God’s presence. Ever more resilient in following Christ, even in dark times.
Like the tango, missionary discipleship is a dance that requires a partner. And not just any partner, but the Divine Partner. Our loving and merciful God. We see this even more clearly tonight, as our Mass readings and prayers for this 1st Sunday in Advent help us to reflect on the third R of missionary discipleship. Do you know what it is? We’ve actually already mentioned it earlier, in our Collect, or Opening Prayer. Do you remember what we prayed for? We asked almighty God to grant us the resolve to run forth to meet…Christ with righteous deeds at his coming… Resolve and righteousness. This is the third R, or the third movement, if you like, in the tango of missionary discipleship.
Resolve and righteousness. This is what we find in the first reading. Here, the prophet prays a prayer of invocation and repentance. He begins by begging God to tear the heavens open and come down! To return to God’s people. For the people feel that God has abandoned them. Has stopped dancing with them. And with good reason. For they have strayed from God’s ways. They have failed to tango with God. Choosing instead to dance with false gods. Which is why, along with the prayer of invocation, the prophet also says a prayer of repentance. He confesses his people’s sins. Their waywardness. And resolves, on their behalf, to turn back to God. To once again allow themselves to be guided and shaped by their loving Father. Like clay in the Potter’s hands.
And just as resolve and righteousness make up the substance of the prophet’s prayer in the first reading. So too are they what Paul is trying to evoke in the second reading, taken from the beginning of his first letter to the Corinthians. For, like the Israelites, the Corinthians too have strayed from God’s ways. Have fallen short of true righteousness. Have chosen to dance to their own beat. Later, in this same letter, Paul will call them to task for their failings. In particular, he will highlight their pride and self-absorption. Their abuse of the many gifts they have received from God. Using them to inflate their own egos, instead of building up God’s kingdom. Causing conflict and division, rather than peace and reconciliation.
But how does one resolve to return to righteousness? To come back to God? As those of us who have ever struggled to repent from habitual sin know only too well, this is no easy thing. We cannot do it on our own. We need God’s help. God’s grace. But we can prepare ourselves to receive this grace by doing what Paul is teaching the Corinthians to do in the reading. I never stop thanking God, he says, for all the graces you have received through Jesus Christ. By writing in this way, Paul is inviting the Corinthians to acknowledge that everything they have and everything they are has been generously and freely bestowed upon them by God. By leading the Corinthians to count their blessings in this way, Paul hopes to help them experience having their hearts stirred to deep gratitude. And, out of gratitude, to a firm resolve to centre their lives, no longer on themselves and their petty concerns, but instead on God and on God’s kingdom.
Resolve and righteousness. Isn’t this also what Jesus is talking about in the gospel? Isn’t this what he means when he encourages his disciples, encourages us, to stay awake? To remain alert? To live a righteous life, while awaiting his return. But how does one live a righteous life? What does it look like? The Lord’s parable helps us to understand. For we’re told that before the master leaves, he places his servants in charge, each with his own task. Which may prompt us to recall the exact tasks that Jesus leaves with us before he ascends into heaven. In particular, we may think of two important instructions: The Greatest Commandment and the so-called Great Commission. Do you remember what they are? You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength… You shall love your neighbour as yourself (Mk 12:30-31). Go… and make disciples of all nations… (Mt 28:19).
Are these not the tasks with which we are supposed to occupy ourselves until the Lord comes again? Each of us according to the particular gifts and talents we have received from God? Isn’t this our vocation? Isn’t it what should be at the centre of our lives as individuals, as families, and as a parish community? So that we might truly live no longer only for ourselves, but for him who died and was raised to life for us (cf 2 Cor 5:15). Who is present among us especially at this sacrifice of the Holy Eucharist.
Sisters and brothers, if it is indeed true that it takes two to do the tango of missionary discipleship, then what must we do to dance ever more closely, ever more intimately, with our Divine Partner today?