ADVENT 1B – 2020
This past week has brought us to the end of the Church’s liturgical year. We have come to an end, only to begin again, with this first Sunday of Advent. The regular circling of the year conditions us to think and feel in terms of beginning and ending and beginning again; and yet time is continuous and linear. We are, each one of us, moving ineluctably towards our personal end point, as far as our experience of this life is concerned, whatever about the circling measurement of the years. And it is with this in mind, that Jesus’ admonition, “Stay awake!”, sounds the way it does. The suggestion is that we might miss something important, not least, his Second Coming, if we are not alert. But, of course, we are missing stuff, all the time; every second that passes is a moment gone, never to return; a moment of my life, never to be recovered. And so, Jesus is also saying to us, with this admonition, “Be mindful! Savour every moment! Use very moment!”
Isaiah’s dramatic cry, “Oh, that you would tear the heavens open and come down!”, is a challenging reminder to us, as Judeo-Christians, that we believe that God has actually and physically intervened in our world. As Christians, we believe that there has been and there remains a vital connexion between the life and activity of God and our human history.
Advent is the time to look at this God connexion again and to re-assess our engagement with it. What difference does it make to the business of how we live? The question is being asked whether people can have a “meaningful” Christmas, this year. Just what is it that makes Christmas meaningful? Can anything make Christmas more or less meaningful than it already is, just by being Christmas? Either we are marking the event of God being born as a human child, or we are not. That is the point of Christmas, whether or not the family comes together. The in-breaking of God to our world, to redeem us from the mess we have made of it is what Christmas is about, whether or not the table is full for a family dinner, whether or not presents are given and received. These twenty-six days of Advent are designed precisely to assist us to reflect on all this; to assess, maybe to re-assess, just what it is that we believe about Jesus Christ. It might be a time to consider, or re-consider, just what we think about the Church, how closely or distantly we are, or wish to be, a part of it, as a community of believers. And in view of all that, is it also a time to reflect on what kind of Christian I have been, since last Christmas? It is precisely this latter consideration that prompts the purple of the Advent liturgy, like the purple of Lent; because, if we are honest, there is much to regret, much to repent, in our behaviour, over the past year.
This new beginning of the Church’s liturgical year provides us all with the opportunity to draw a line under the year that has passed and to re-set our personal programme for the new year, much as we would do with resolutions for the calendar New Year. God, our all-powerful father, like the potter, is moulding us, in every moment, into the image of the Son whom he loves, the Son who is to come again, as unexpectedly, but not so quietly, we are told, as he came, two thousand years ago. Most of the people then, our Jewish forebears, who had been prepared for that coming, over hundreds of years, missed it, so unspectacular was that coming; while some met it, even, with violent resistance. But more again, very tellingly, met that first coming with indifference; and it is that indifference, missing the point of it, which is the risk for us, today, as we address that oh so anxious question, “Will we have a meaningful Christmas, this year?” Well, will you?
Stay awake; and give it some thought.