Reflection for Sunday 3rd December, 2023 - 1st Sunday of Advent
Advent, the Season of Hope (Mark 13:33-37)
The First Sunday of Advent is the beginning of the new liturgical year. Advent means coming: the past coming of Jesus Christ at the first Christmas; the future coming of Christ at the end of life; and the everyday coming of Christ in a daily relationship.
In preparation for Christmas, the colourful street-lights and homes cheer us up. Yet it is a pity that the commercial side of Christmas has devoured Advent because this is the season which offers the spiritual message that is most needed today.
The prayer-word of Advent is “come” and the virtue of Advent is hope. As long as there is someone to whom we can say “come”, there is hope. In the northern hemisphere Advent is celebrated in winter which invites us to find hope at a time when the Church is going through a winter season.
Winter of the spirit
It is a winter for the Church with falling numbers, ageing congregations and hostile media. There is winter darkness in a society where murders are almost a daily occurrence, the bonds of marriage unravel, addiction to drugs and alcohol is rampant, life in the womb is under threat and many are sleeping rough. Winter is dark and cold as the light of faith disappears and religious fervour has gone cold. Have people completely forgotten that the reason for the season is Jesus? The first Christmas was in a draughty stable.
The Circle of life
It might seem odd that Advent begins, not with preparation for the coming of Christ at Christmas, but his coming for us at the end of life’s journey. The Church’s liturgy sees time as a circle in which the line ends exactly where it began.
“And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.” (T S Eliot)
Life is a journey from God our Creator back to God our final destiny. When this large circle of life is forgotten, life becomes a directionless succession of unconnected moments. The digital watch represents the mind of many today as it shows no past or future but only the dancing digit of the present moment. Without roots in the past or vision of the future, one lives only for the present moment. And if this collapses, as in a broken relationship or some defeat, everything falls apart.
The message of today’s Gospel is to be on your guard, stay awake, because you never know when your time will come, when your life-circle will be complete. There are three great virtues that keep our lives connected with God: faith, hope and charity. These are known as the theological virtues because they are three ways in which we are rooted in God. Faith lets us know God: hope draws courage from God: and love opens our hearts to God. Faith, hope and love can be seen as three sisters on a journey. We hear a lot about faith and love, but we rarely hear about hope. She is the little one in the middle, led along by the two bigger sisters. The journey turns out to be longer than expected. As darkness falls, faith cannot see as clearly as before and it begins to falter. The atmosphere gets cold and love finds it hard to keep going when relationships are cool. But hope emerges as the little one who keeps faith going through darkness, and enables love to overcome coldness.
Hope is the great virtue of Advent. Readings from Isaiah fill us with images of hope. Swords will be changed into ploughshares. The wolf will lie down with the lamb. A little child will lead them. Mary looks forward in excited expectation of the birth of her child. John the Baptist tells us that someone-is-coming. Even in the darkest and coldest winter there is hope.
“Hope is the thing with feathers
that perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
and never stops at all.” (Emily Dickinson)
Have you ever been at a party when somebody who has a good voice makes the excuse that I cannot sing because I haven’t got the words? A bird sings without any words. When we have words we have a certain power in a situation. Just like the bird, hope can keep the music going even when we feel powerless and wordless, because hope keeps us rooted in God to whom everything is possible. The prayers of Advent invite God to come into our winter experience.
May the light of faith penetrate all forms of darkness in these difficult times. Come, Lord Jesus, come.
Strengthen us with the virtue of hope to help us keep going when all seems dark and cold. Come, Lord Jesus, come.
Warm the fervour of our love, enabling us to cope with all feelings of hurt or rejection. Come, Lord Jesus, come.