Monday, 3 December 2012

1st Sunday of Advent - Year C

Jeremiah 33:14-16; 1 Thessalonians 3:12 - 4.2; Luke 21:25-28.34-36

Advent plays havoc with our tenses - future, present, past. We wait for what has already come and celebrate what has not yet arrived. It’s all a bit confusing!

The trouble is that God has no tenses, no past, no present, no future; he dwells in an eternal Now.

We poor humans, on the other hand, are formed in time and space. Our now is that tiny instant where what was and what will be rub together and, perplexingly, even this fleeting moment, like the oxygen we gulp down so greedily, slips away from us before we can grasp it.

It’s a humbling thought, isn’t it? On the one hand, God promises Job: You shall see your descendants multiply, your offspring grow like the grass in the fields (5:25); while, on the other hand, Psalm 90 laments: You brush men away like waking dreams, they are like grass(v5).

Not only does God have all the advantage but he also has an extraordinary plan.

His plan lies in Jesus, the Eternal Word; the Eternal Word who became flesh and entered into time. Imagine that, the Eternal entered time!

This plan of God is our hope, incorporated into our spiritual DNA from the very beginning; a hope so ‘enormous’ that it cannot be realised in time. It just won’t fit into that little space between past and future in which we exist. Even our mere longing for the realisation of God’s promise can cause us to swoon as it over-inflates our tiny hearts and causes the great mystics to cry out ‘No more, no more, or I’ll die.’

And what a self-sacrifice that must have been – to step out of the eternal Now into the painful limitations of a fleeting instant between yesterday and tomorrow!

Yes, our God is a humble God. As St Paul explained to the Philippians: His state was divine, yet he did not cling to his equality with God  but emptied himself to assume the condition of a slave, and became as men are…(2:6-7).

He became as men are! He put on our short-lived mortality so that we might be transformed and led into eternity. This is the bread and butter of our meditation for the next four weeks - the love of the Father which caused him to send his Son to set us free from time.

And so we wait.

It may be said that Advent is the season in which we fill our waiting with longing – like the longing of a young wife waiting for her husband to return from war; the parent waiting for the safe return of a child who is lost; or the child longing for the holidays or the unwrapping of the Christmas gifts.

We Christians fill our waiting with longing for the arrival of the One who will set us free from all longing.

But, in the meantime, what do we do? This is a question which preoccupies our readings today. What do we do while we are waiting? The Opening Prayer suggests 'righteous deeds': Grant your faithful, we pray, almighty God, the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ with righteous deeds at his coming. That's certainly an important work for a people waiting for their Master. We should 'do good'.

The Responsorial Psalm suggests that we should walk in God's truth, which includes doing good but implies, also, the need to keep all God's commandments in word and in deed.

The psalm quietly mentions the 'humble' and the 'poor', as well as 'those who keep his covenant and will ... and 'those who revere him'. What wonderful goals of life these are for us Christians as we wait: to become humble and poor!

St Paul recommends 'holiness' and 'blamelessness' as preparation for the coming of the Lord, and 'to make more and more progress in the kind of life that you are meant to live: the life that God wants.' Surely we could find no better texts to meditate on during this first week of Advent!

Jesus tells his disciples, and us, that he is going to come 'with power and great glory' and that the time preceding his coming will be full of bewilderment', fear and even agony. We know that is true, already in these present times.

Jesus' command, or should I say, warning, as we await his coming is to 'watch' ourselves so that our hearts are not 'coarsened' by sin and preoccupation with worldly affairs'. To 'watch' means to pray and the Lord says we should be 'praying at all times for the strength to survive all that is going to happen.' As I've already said, surely we could find no better texts to meditate on during this first week of Advent!

And what a happy moment it will be for us if the Lord's arrival finds us awake, waiting, confident, standing erect, heads held high!

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