The trouble with Advent is that it’s too short! Why the liturgical season with all the best readings, chants and hymns should be so short in the Western Church has always been a mystery to me, especially as the Ambrosian Rite of Milan has the full six Sundays as do the Oriental Churches including all those in communion with Rome. The only solution, apart from grumbling, is to live this lovely season as intensely and as faithfully as possible. In the words of the prophet Isaiah, “Let us walk in the light of the Lord.”
Advent is a season full of hope and expectation. As we pray at Mass just after the Lord’s Prayer, “we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Saviour Jesus Christ.” In Advent we live in our own flesh the centuries of hope that marked the lives of men and women in Old Testament times as they longed for the Messiah to come and bring salvation, reconciliation and unity to the world. We prepare again, as we do every year, for the celebration of Christmas and the Epiphany, that magnificent, double re-enactment of the birth and manifestation in human flesh of the Son of God made man through the working of the Holy Spirit and the willing obedience of Our Blessed Lady. And we look closely at our Christian lives in the light of the Gospel and in the hope of correcting what we have done wrong as we look forward to Christ’s Second Coming, when he returns in glory to judge the living and the dead or in our case, perhaps, the living dead. Hope and expectation are also fulfilled, though we don’t always recognise this, every time we pray, every time we go to confession, every time we celebrate Mass and receive Holy Communion, for Christ is with us, he is among us and he is in us.
Let’s look briefly, then, at today’s readings. Isaiah reminds us that we are called to “go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the Temple of the God of Jacob.” However, the temple we gather at as Christians is not a temple built with hands on Mount Zion or in Jerusalem, but Jesus Christ himself, who is the living Temple in whom we have part as living stones. We are invited to walk together as pilgrims towards Christ, who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. He is the source of a new humanity whose members love one another, cease from all discord and work for peace.
St Paul exhorts us to wake up from sleep, the sleep of indifference and sloth, the sleep of sin, which is symbolised by night and darkness. In Christ the light has come: he is the Light of the world. Soon we will celebrate the Feast of Light, but it will only truly be Christmas for those who return to the Lord and ask forgiveness, so that their hearts are made new by grace. “Let your armour be the Lord Jesus Christ.”
In the Gospel, Jesus himself tells us that we must be prepared, not just this Christmas but always. We must stay awake because we don’t know the day when our master is coming. How imprudent, how foolish we so often are, putting off time and again what is most urgent in our lives, sorting things out with God. Is it really worth hanging on to our sinful ways? How better life would be for all of us if we simply followed Jesus faithfully, as Mary and Joseph did, as John the Baptist and Isaiah did, as all the great saints of Advent did. This is so serious, so important for us that Jesus seems to threaten his disciples with those mini-parables of two men working in the fields, where one is taken and the other left, or of the two women at the millstone grinding, where one is taken and the other left. Then the parable of the householder who would have stayed awake had only he known at what time the burglar was coming. He would have stayed awake and his house would not have been burgled. We can’t say we haven’t been warned.
One of the consequences of original sin is that we give in so easily to temptation and, of course, the Devil plays on our weakness. When you make a good and wise decision, “I won’t do that anymore – I won’t be impatient, unkind, untruthful, lazy, I won’t put off doing whatever it is anymore,” do you hear that little voice within telling you so gently, so convincingly, “It doesn’t matter, you don’t have to change at once, stay just the way you are, do it again, that’s it, no-one will notice.” The Devil isn’t nearly as subtle as he makes himself out to be, but he knows we’re easy game. Now Advent is the time to get rid of all that. Advent is the time, the great opportunity to say, “No, I won’t.” The Church, the Sacraments, the Scriptures, the Saints, prayer and our own common sense are all here to help us. We can stay awake, we can be prepared and we can be filled with hope and with expectation, for Christ is truly with us. Now if Christ is truly with us and we are with him, then when he comes again as Judge there will be nothing to fear. He will say to us, “Come, you blessed of my Father, receive the Kingdom prepared for you before the foundation of the world.”
A useful little prayer to say over and over again this Advent, especially when you feel yourself falling asleep or giving in to temptation, is today’s Alleluia verse, “Let us see, O Lord, your mercy and give us your saving help.” May the good Lord help you keep a great Advent this year.