On this bleak November evening, in the uncertain time between autumn and winter while most of the world is busy about other things, our small, faithful monastic community gathers to chant our evening praises to the eternal God, whom we believe has come and is yet to come. Holy Mother Church reminds us, through sacred words from ancient texts and through the light of a single violet candle, of the millions before us who shared the same hope of a Savior as they journeyed through life.
Like all pilgrims on a journey, we need a road map, a trustworthy GPS that will show us where we are headed, how to get there, what road blocks need to be avoided, and where to find assistance along the way. As Christians we believe that, at a unique point in human history when the fullness of time had come, God chose to come to dwell among and teach us the way. We are the fortunate ones living in that milieu. Through the merits of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection and the gift of the Holy Spirit dwelling in us, we believe all humanity and earth itself has the promise of an eternal life.
Thus, Christianity is about the God who is forever coming. We name this strange interpenetration of past, present, and future Advent. It is fitting that, for four weeks once a year, the Church calls us to reflect on where we are on our journey.
How then are we to observe Advent this year? In contemplation, patient waiting, and active preparation. I know many of us will think that preparing for Christmas is the busiest time of year, but to make the feast fruitful we must spend time alone in quiet prayer, pondering how many times Christ has already come into our own lives. The more I do this the more I am overwhelmed with gratitude for times, from childhood to old age, in which I have experienced God’s presence in my life. God comes to me through multiple blessings received, my religious vocation, daily Holy Eucharist, people encountered, the beauties of nature, and new insights gained through silence, study and meditation.
But even more I am grateful for how my concept of God and the purpose of my life as a consecrated monastic religious in the church of the 21st century is developing into a more universal vision. If we do not grow in understanding, it is because we fail to see the signs of the times, and the needs of our church and world.
If we are faithful to daily lectio, the scriptural passages for each day of Advent will provide ample food for reflection on both our own spiritual life and that of the world that calls us to intercede. In the Sunday readings for this Advent cycle, the Old Testament readings from the prophet Isaiah give several biblical visions for God’s future reign, such as the uplifting vision of a world without war. We hear it in the blessing of the Advent wreath and on the First Sunday of Advent. The remaining Sundays include the prophet’s insistent prayers for peace and prosperity, justice and peace for all, especially the poorest and most vulnerable; for a time when creation itself will rejoice along with all who suffer from oppression; and finally for the day when God remains with us always as our Emmanuel and King of Glory. These intentions are reinforced by the responsorial psalms. As we hear these pleas and prophecies, from thousands of years before Christ and then repeated in Christ’s own words, how do we react? Are we merely content that they have already been fulfilled? Or do they stir us to eager participation in building God’s kingdom in our own time?
In this year’s Advent Gospels from Matthew, we hear from Jesus Christ and John the Baptist that we can no longer delay. The end-time is near. We must stay awake and prepare for the Messiah’s coming. Jesus says, “You too must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come” (Matthew 24:44). Do any of us know how many years we have left to cooperate in building God’s kingdom? The Son of Man came for some of us last year and will come for some this year. Yet, as we listen to Jesus’s words and look at the world around us, we see most people in prosperous lands still “eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage,” as though all is well without a thought for the future. Thus in St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans, all followers of Jesus are urged to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the desires of the flesh” (Romans 13:14).
St. Benedict reminds those who have answered God’s call to consecrated life as Benedictines that their way of thinking must be different from the world’s way. Thus, as we prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ this Advent season and heed the signs of the times, we know that we have radically changed from the day we entered religious life. No longer can we be a world to ourselves where we concentrate solely on seeking God in our protected environment, for tumultuous world events and the digital age have brought the world’s needs to our doorsteps. While we learn of thousands martyred for their faith, we also see thousands of comfortable Christians who have abandoned it, seeing in it no meaning for their lives. Christ needs faithful followers to exemplify a different set of values and help save Christianity and the planet itself from destruction.
Therefore, as we prepare our hearts to be a fit dwelling for Christ to enter, let us ask God to find a dwelling place for the millions who, like the Holy Family, seek refuge for themselves and their children. Let us work with those who seek to preserve the earth and all life on it. Together with all the stars and angels of the heavens, beasts of the earth, lowly shepherds, and strange kings from the East, we come to adore the one God who has come among us, remains with us and will be with us forever.
Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!