The annual liturgical season of Advent is upon us as we prepare for the Feast of Christmas. It is a bit odd for some, that the readings and the mood of the first Sunday are directed to the second coming of Jesus. A time when he will come in all his glory and judge the whole world. Hardly a warm fuzzy start to the upcoming Advent season.
True, not so warm and fuzzy, but for the believer, quite a necessary step to take because the gloriousness of the Incarnation was the beginning, and just a part of the whole drama of salvation, not its completion. The importance of the Incarnation is not that Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary, but through his birth into the human condition was the only one who could change the fallen nature of humanity. It is fitting therefore; Advent begins with the reflection upon what the Incarnation was intended to do—radically transform human nature into God-like natures. The one and important condition of the transformation is the necessity to die with Christ. That alone, directs our attention on the first week of Advent to the second coming of Christ.
But before we can contemplate the future, we must be attentive to the present. It is so easy for us, especially during the busy month of late November and December to focus on things which claim our attention – shopping, parties, jobs, problems, health, families, relationships. When we do, we are like people who pretend that death will somehow pass us by. We know, intellectually, that this is not the case. It doesn’t stop us but we live as if it were. The readings for Sunday give us a blueprint of how to approach the beginning of Advent and not to fall into the trap of blissful ignorance.
Isaiah speaks of going up to the Temple of God. “The LORD’s house shall be established as the highest mountain and raised above the hills. All nations shall stream toward it; many peoples shall come and say: “Come, let us climb the LORD’s mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may instruct us in his ways, and we may walk in his paths.” We need to make space for God, to enter that inner sanctuary where our hearts listen to God. We need to withdraw to that private place where we can meet with God, renew our relationship with God, let God’s wisdom guide us.
Along with being with God in a holy place, Isaiah also speaks of turning implements of war into tools of peace. Advent is a time for preparing to meet God by turning away from all of the disharmony we have sown. The lack of peace and justice are implements of war, but Advent is a time to transform them into justice, love and peace. We haven’t all day to do it either as St. Paul suggests.
Paul urges us that the time to do this is now. “You know the time; it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep. For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed; the night is advanced, the day is at hand. Let us then throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.”
Most of all, we need to live in a state of expectation, as Jesus describes in the gospel. ‘Stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come”. Instead of imaging we will live forever, instead of thinking that the Lord will never return, we need to live as if we really expect him to return at any moment.
This doesn’t mean cringing in fear, nor does it mean ignoring all our duties and responsibilities. But it does mean seeing our lives in their proper context and allowing this to affect our daily living. It means reminding ourselves of why we are here, the reason for our lives. It also means remembering that one day we will have to stand before the Son of Man.
There will be plenty of time in the upcoming weeks to reflect upon the baby in the stable. There is less time, due to our human nature, to think about the moment God will ask us to leave this world. Use this week to do just that.
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