Several years ago, while I was altar serving in an Advent season, my parish priest explained to us in his homily what Advent meant. The term, derived from Latin advenire, referred to the coming and the associated expecting of, a notable important person.
I was brought up in a culture that put special emphasis on hospitality when you invited someone home. My mother has yelled at me numerous times for “allowing” my friends to leave before she could make milk-tea and food and stuff them to her hearts content. I’ve recollection of times when she got mad at them for not eating enough, and so packed the leftovers and sent it along. And she was a working mom, who had an office gig six days a week, read the newspaper every day and had a decent social circle. My friends’ mothers weren’t much different, so I didn’t feel all that guilty for the torture they endured with mine.
The Sanskrit verse “Atithi Devo Bhavah” from Taittiriya Upanishad has the literal interpretation “Guest is like God”. However the word “Atithi” which translates to guest, has some interesting roots. The word “tithi” denotes a date, like a particular day in the calendar. In those days (you know like, well uh… no internet, no texting, no telegrams, no phone lines, no postal services, no pigeons and most importantly no Tim Hortons to stop by in between) you couldn’t put a fixed time or date of arrival when you travelled long distances. So atithi literally meant someone whose arrival date was unknown. The ancient text was exhorting one to treat this person whom you knew was coming but was not sure when he is going to arrive, like a god. Be expectant and vigilante to serve.
But what if the guest was God himself? If you were expected to treat a wandering traveller like a god, how would you treat God when he is due ? We look into scripture for direction.
My favorite passages are from the Gospel of Matthew.
Matthew 24:42 [ The necessity for watchfulness ] “Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.”
Matthew 24:46-47 [ The faithful slave ] “Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives. Truly I tell you, he will put that one in charge of all his possessions.”
Matthew 25:13 [ The parable of the ten bridesmaids ] “Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
When we had a very important guest due home, we would in addition tidy up the place, mop up the floor, dust up the furniture and put out the best china. And then you took a shower and put on your best clothes and waited.
We do pretty much the same thing these days for our celebrations, be it Christmas or Easter or any secular holidays. We would make our homes presentable with decorations and adorned ourselves with the best outfits. Then we pamper our guests with food and wine.
But how do we prepare ourselves to receive God? For the most part we are clueless, because we are confined to our known social norms when it comes to entertaining a guest. We try to do the same things, tidy up the place, decorate a beautiful tree, put out our best china, dress up spiff and dandy. And if you are someone like my dad, find the tallest pole to stick up a star far above than anyone in the neighborhood could do, scaring the locomotive drivers from afar as to what on earth that red orb in the distance meant. On the brighter side, they did thank God when they got closer and figured out it was just a star, so I kind of thought it was a good way to make people religious.
Alas, God doesn’t need the costly china or the brightest star. He doesn’t judge you by how spiff and dandy you look and he doesn’t expect you to serve the finest Cabernet Sauvignon for dinner, I mean for heavens sake, the first thing he did was to change water into wine, so get over it SAQ !
St. Paul, who doesn’t leave anything to speculation when it comes to writing letters, making it so long that they had to cut down half of the amazon rainforest to make paper for him, spells it out clearly.
1 Corinthians 3:16 “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?”
Apparently they don’t seem to have got the message right on the first letter, so he goes about again in the second letter.
2 Corinthians 6:16b “we are the temple of the living God;”
Yes mes amies, God, the big Guy dwells within us.
The ancients considered the heart to be the origin of thoughts, so much that the Egyptians left the heart intact during mummification process even though they removed the brain and other internal organs making their mummies literally brain-dead in their afterlife.
The idea was no different in the days of Jesus, he himself says.
Matthew 5:8 [ The beatitudes ] “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”
Ok, I think in plain Aramaic, it says go ahead and tidy up your heart if you want to welcome God. This can’t be simpler, the instruction comes from The Guy himself !
So how do we go about this ? Cleanse our hearts of our greed, lust, anger etc (you know what you’ve been up to). Use a room freshener … I recommend reconciliation, it’s the best out there !. Go shopping and buy some decorations… love, compassion, charity, kindness… They are on sale always that it’s practically free for your grabs.
Give a friend in need a hug, write a letter to that long lost friend whom you haven’t talked to in a while but you know is going through difficult times. Make someone dear to you a heartfelt meal. Say thank you to those who have been kind to you. Smile to a stranger.
And then God is home, for its written:
Matthew 25:45 “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
Have a blessed Advent my friends!
By: Joseph D’Silva