At this evening’s Youth Mass at the Chengdu Cathedral, Father Jia Zhilu shared a story to explain the meaning of Advent. As a twilight glow fell over the Sacred Heart Chapel within the cathedral complex, 50 young adults showed up for the vigil mass.


Father Jia told a story of a young man who overslept one morning and was late for an appointment. He rushed to get dressed and headed out. As he made his way through the day, he noticed that people looked at him differently, some making faces and others smiling awkwardly. He didn’t know why that day was different until he returned home and looked in the mirror. He saw that he had buttoned his shirt crooked, one buttonhole off all the way down.


The priest tied this story to Adam and Eve, who were created by God to live in peace. They could do anything except eat from the tree of knowledge, as that would give them knowledge of God. They from the tree, trying to become like their creator. By the same token, when we sin, we try to be like God, rather than be the creation living in obedient faith that he wanted us to be.


A life of sin is like one with an off-buttoned shirt. It doesn’t look right, and it doesn’t feel right. To dress up properly, then, means to unbutton what’s wrong and dress up right. We look better and feel right in our clothes. In the spiritual, that means to repent. In today’s readings, Paul tells us God is “not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (1 Peter 3:9). In the gospel reading, Mark tells us that “John the Baptist appeared in the desert proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4).


A key theme to Advent is repentance. The Israelites repented as a way to hasten the coming of the Messiah. We repent to hasten the birth of Jesus in our hearts. By dressing up properly, we do what’s natural, preparing ourselves so that Jesus may allow his peace to reign in our lives.