The school holidays are in full swing, summer in the air, so it’s time for the festivities to begin. It’s a blessing to see families reunite, for the kids to come home, and for the parties to commence. All of this is very good. After all family get togethers and renewing old acquaintances are much the better part of what it is to be human. But there is a problem with the timing. It’s not yet December and we are already celebrating as if it is Christmas. It looks like the rich, meaningful season of Advent has been passed over. Half the joy in celebrating big events is the anticipation. Advent anticipates the greatest story of our human history. It’s the time to await eagerly for the righteous branch of David to spring forth and guide us all. Celebrating Christmas prematurely tends to negate this important season.
Given that the office parties have already started and the commercial world is busy urging us to shop till we drop; how can we allow the season of Advent a place in our lives? I suggest that all is not lost. Jesus tells us to stay awake. I would like to interpret this as mindfulness. We can be mindful of Christ’s coming as we do simple chores, cook, drive the car or go for a walk. A lovely example of mindfulness is the Jesus Prayer. It’s a matter of repeating continually the Jesus prayer as one goes about one’s daily chores: ‘Lord Jesus Christ, son of the living God, have mercy on me a sinner.’ This simple prayer has the ability of opening up one’s heart to the Divine, of transporting one into a spiritual realm and indeed allowing one to live in a spiritual world at all times. It is very popular in the Eastern churches and, to a lesser extent, in the Catholic Church.
The word Advent means coming. It’s a ‘back to the future’ kind of coming. We celebrate the coming of Jesus 2000 years ago in the light of his future coming at the end of time. Looking back to the past we learn from our forebears how to long for and welcome Jesus. It was the many difficult predicaments including exile that encouraged the Hebrews to long for the promised Messiah in the future. A great example of this was the old man Simeon who prayed and fasted for that great day to come. In the end he rejoiced in witnessing the infant who would be the salvation of Jews and gentiles alike.
We could choose to ignore the many sad and tragic situations in today’s world and simply live in our own cocoon, but the Christian response is to realise that the world is in such a bad way that only God can sort this out. Therefore we turn to Jesus for our salvation and long for his being born anew in our hearts today. Can any among us say that we are fully won over to Jesus? Advent is preparing the soil of our hearts for Jesus so that we can say with St. Paul: ‘I live now, not I, but Christ lives in me.
As well as Jesus coming long ago and coming to us in the everyday, Jesus will also come at the end time. This end time has two meanings. The one is the end of our own personal lives. The other is the end time of the world which Luke describes in today’s gospel. His description seems to be a real downer. We must remember however that he is reflecting the fears and the uncertainty of the early Christian communities who were fragile and vulnerable, living in the midst of the vast Roman Empire, in conflicts and persecutions, with an uncertain future, without knowing when Jesus, their beloved Lord, would come.
But there is encouragement in Luke’s words as well as catastrophe. After all the disasters that will take place, the Son of Man will come in power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, we are to stand up and raise your heads, because our redemption is drawing near.”
Stand up and raise our heads and very telling words. There are ways of living that keep many of us from walking with our heads raised, trusting in that definitive liberation. That’s why we need to “take care not to be deceived”. We don’t need to get used to living with cold and hardened hearts, seeking only to fill our lives with well-being and pleasure, turning our backs to the Father in Heaven and to God’s children who suffer here on earth. That style of living makes us all the more inhuman.
Jesus asks us to be on guard so that our hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life. In the old days we heard many a sermon on the demon drink – and they still apply. But what about the cares and worries of this life? It’s very difficult not to be weighed down when we have multiple worries on our plate. It’s the testimony of many a holy person, however, that allowing more space for Jesus in their lives lessens all worries considerably. Remember Jesus’ words: ‘Come to me all you who labour and are overburdened and I will give you rest.’
Let us learn patience and waiting in this season of Advent. Let our hearts not be coarsened by indulgent shopping and too many parties. Advent is a beautiful season full of the riches of scripture and the liturgy. Stay awake, be attentive in prayer and enjoy the silence which can only be filled by Christ. Advent prepares us to appreciate the child born in the manger who will give his life for us on the cross. With confidence in his saving power we can face the future with great hope.
Sunday 29 November 2015