ANTICIPATING THE JOY OF HEAVEN IN CHRIST’S SECOND COMING
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ ISA 25:6-10; MT 15:29-37 ]
The season of Advent is to prepare us for the coming of the Lord, especially at Christmas. But it is important that the Church puts us in perspective for the celebration of the Incarnation at Christmas. Indeed, if we have paid attention especially to the liturgy of the first week of Advent, the Church is more focused on the Second Coming. In the opening prayer we prayed “that we may be ready to receive Christ when he comes in glory and share in the banquet of heaven. “
Clearly, it means that our hope for heaven is the real reason why we are celebrating Christmas. Advent is to prepare us not just for the coming of Christ at Christmas, because He has already come and is still with us, but to remind us that in celebrating Christmas, we are awaiting His final return at the end of time. When He returns in His glory, then we will share the fullness of His presence in our lives. This sharing of the life of Christ is graphically presented as coming to the mountain of the Lord, the heavenly Jerusalem which is heaven. Yes, the liturgy wants us to be excited about heaven so that we have a great desire to be in heaven with Jesus. But perhaps, many of us are not really interested in heaven. This is because we think that heaven is quite a boring place. Furthermore, many of us might think that we still young and we have many more years to live on this earth.
Thus, before we can speak of Christ’s return in glory and our share in the banquet of heaven, we must ask ourselves whether we know what heaven is all about. Have we tasted heaven in our life? If we have not, how can we have confidence that there is heaven in the next life or that heaven is such a great place to be? So, do you know what heaven is? Of course you know but do not recognize it! The truth is that you have tasted heaven already. In the first reading, we have a description of what heaven is like. Isaiah speaks of heaven as “a banquet of rich food, a banquet of fine wines, of food rich and juicy, of fine strained wines.” In heaven, God “will destroy Death for ever.” In the gospel, we are told that Jesus multiplied bread to feed the hungry crowd until they were totally satisfied. Not only did “they all ate as much as they wanted,” but “they collected what was left of the scraps, seven baskets full.” Seven of course is a biblical symbol of total fulfillment.
Hence, heaven is a state of great joy, happiness and fulfillment where is there is fellowship, excitement, love and life. All that we experience on this earth, especially in our activities, is already a taste of the fullness of life that is given to us in heaven. Whenever we encounter peace, joy and love, this is a preview of heaven. Whenever we give ourselves to each other in love, friendship and service, whether in our family, among our own friends, in school, at work and at Church, we would have tasted what heaven is like. So heaven is a state of life that is full of love, joy, dynamism and life.
Needless to say, this heaven on earth is not perfect. We have never said it is anyway. Rather it is a “taste” of the heavenly banquet; not yet the full meal. We will experience some inconvenience, unhappiness and misunderstandings in life. Not everything is always right and according to our desires. We are not always nice to others and our loved ones and friends do not always show love towards us either. So heaven on earth is only a “taste” and a foretaste. Precisely, this is the point of today’s liturgy. If we think that human friendship and this life is great, Then God wants to give us something more excellent than we can ever imagine. He wants to give us joy, love and life to the fullness. This is what Prophet Isaiah says, “On this Mountain”, that is, heaven, God will “wipe away the tears from every cheek” and “remove the mourning veil” so that we can see Him face to face. Hence, heaven is often described as a beatific vision. To meet God face to face means that we encounter Him in His presence and love that we could say with the Israelites, “See, this is our God to whom we hoped for salvation.” When we experience the indwelling of God’s presence in our hearts, we will experience a joy and love that is simply indescribable.
Such a foretaste of what heaven is like is anticipated especially when we celebrate the Eucharistic banquet. This is what the gospel wants to remind us. In the multiplication of the loaves, Jesus was anticipating the Eucharist, the gift of Himself to the Church. In fact, the miracle of the loaves is narrated within a liturgical setting. Similarly, in the Eucharist, we encounter once again in a very real way, the presence of our Lord in the bread and wine. In the liturgy of the Word, we hear the Lord speaking to us again. And in the worship service, we find ourselves in deep communion with the Lord in prayer. So every time we celebrate the Eucharist and listen to His Word in scripture when it is read, Christ becomes so real and present to us in our hearts and mind so much so we could, like the Israelites, say “We exult and we rejoice that he has saved us.” In our union with Him, we are healed of our brokenness, fears and anxieties. For this reason, the celebration of the liturgy and the Eucharist is a real foretaste of heaven, since in the celebration we experience the love and presence of God so intensely in our hearts.
However, this is only possible because of Christ who has come among us in the flesh. In celebrating Christmas, the Feast of Incarnation, we are acknowledging the presence of God amongst men. It is in order that we might recognize the love of God that God became man in Jesus. Through His works of love, compassion and healing, Jesus revealed to His people who God is and what the kingdom is like. This is clearly presented in today’s gospel where Jesus is shown as a Good Shepherd reaching out to the lonely, lost and broken souls who are searching for direction and meaning in life. And this presence of Jesus is continued especially in the Sacraments, particularly in the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Reconciliation. In the Eucharist, Jesus is fully present to us in His entire being. That is why the Eucharist is the extension of His incarnation and resurrection.
However, we who are so privileged to have a foretaste of heaven in our fellowship with one another and our fellowship with God are asked to share that joy with others. Before we came to the Lord, we were also crippled; blind, and dumb like many people in the world. We were crippled in love, blind to our own sinfulness and dumb when it came to witnessing to Christ and His love. But now that Christ has healed and given us a share of His love, He is appealing to all of us to make His Incarnation and presence real again in the lives of so many people who are still crippled, blind and dumb. Just as He told His disciples, “I feel sorry for all these people … I do not want to send them off hungry,” He is speaking these words to each one of us.
The question is whether we will be like them, shake off our responsibility because of our lack of faith and love and tell Jesus to send them away instead. Nay, Jesus wants us to feel for the crowd. In the miracle of the loaves, Jesus is asking us to multiply Him as He multiplied the loaves and fed the people. After all, He has fed us abundantly already. But more than the miracle of the multiplication of loaves, He is challenging us to share that abundance with others, symbolized by the seven baskets full of scraps that were collected.
So, how can we multiply Jesus today? It is fitting therefore that as we prepare for the Feast of Christmas, when Christ lives in us and amongst us, we must ask ourselves how Christ is asking us to prolong His presence among us. His presence is revealed when we are faithful to our calling in life, regardless of what that may be. Are we generous enough to show our gratitude to His love for us that we want give our lives to serve Him and be with Him all the days of our lives? Are we equally excited as He was in bringing all men to share in the banquet of the kingdom of His Father?
In order to have the capacity to love and give like Jesus, we must therefore deepen our love for the Lord and listen to His calling and cry in our hearts for the love of His people. Unless we love Him and grow in intimacy with Him, we would not experience His love and presence in our lives. But if we do, we will be so filled with His compassion and love that we feel the call to feed His people who are hungry for spiritual food and the presence of God. Indeed, we are all called to bring heaven down to earth for all so that anticipating the joy of heaven, they too will look to that fullness of Christ’s coming in His glory at the end of time.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
- Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
- It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.
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