Advent – creative longing
The Gospel reading given to us for this first Sunday of Advent reveals to us what Advent is about. We are accustomed to thinking of Advent as a preparation for Christmas, as a time when we get ready to celebrate the earthly birthday of Christ.
The Christmas season then takes in Advent and beyond.
Such an approach does not satisfy. As we grow older, this approach seems to miss something and so we hear people saying Christmas is for children. Advent as a special time standing in its own right thus disappears and loses its power to affect change in our lives.
It is important therefore to look carefully at what the readings are saying to us if we are to understand Advent and draw from it the graces which it proposes.
I remember when I was quite young, my father going away to study in England. After about nine months my mother went to meet him in England. Home was not the same while they were away. We never felt safe. We felt ourselves at the mercy of bandits. We slept with cutlasses and sticks nearby. Because home was not the same without my parents we eagerly awaited their return.
As the time for their return grew shorter we prepared the house to ensure that they would have a good welcome back and what happiness we expressed when they arrived. My parents were happy. They met us safe and sound. The house was clean and decorated. We the children were also happy. We felt enveloped in their love once again. We had lived ADVENT. It had been a time of longing and creative waiting for all of us.
This period of my life has always been a symbol of what Advent must be for all of us. Life must be lived with a certain unease. We must always be aware of the pitfalls which await us at every stage and this brings with it a longing for that day when all these pitfalls will disappear.
We live this, of course, on two levels: on the level of community and on the individual level. As community, we long for the day when there will be no more violent incidents on the Beetham Highway, no more burning of tyres and blocking of roads; when there will be no more grinding poverty and famine, no more diseases and epidemics.
And we await that day creatively by doing all that we can to hasten its coming. It will indeed be the establishment of God’s Kingdom, when God will be our God and we will be His people. As individuals, we live removing from our lives everything which impedes God’s coming to us so that we receive God with joy, not fear when He calls us to Himself.
It is important to understand that these two levels are linked, for it is when as individuals we remove the selfishness which is the root obstacle to God, that the community progresses on its journey to that day when the Kingdom will be manifest.
This is in fact how the saints, our heroes in the faith, lived. By removing from their lives the selfishness which impedes so many of us from doing good, they were able to dedicate themselves, like Mother Teresa, and Maximilian Kolbe and Francis and others, to the task of making this world a better place for so many.
If the Kingdom is any nearer, it is because of their lives. They lived longing for the day when they could go to God and at the same time they lived very creatively. In a very true sense their lives were characterised by creative longing. For them, the season of Advent stretched beyond the four Sundays to every stage of their lives.
Christmas is thus not simply a reminder of the birthday of someone long gone from us. It is also a symbol of that other coming when, as community, we experience the establishment of the Kingdom and as individuals, we are embraced by God at the end of our earthly existence. Advent is the time of waiting and creative longing for those two comings.
All powerful and ever-loving God, as we begin the celebration of this season of Advent, help us to remember that this world is not a lasting one. Help us to remember that we await a more glorious Kingdom where there will be no more weeping and pain and sorrow. Help us to await with longing that day. Help us to await creatively by removing all the obstacles which slowed down its arrival. We ask this through the intercession of Mary our Mother who teaches us how to await the Lord creatively. Amen
The Gospel reflections for December are by Archbishop Joseph Harris