The first Sunday of Advent plunges us straight into the heart of a mystery. We are waiting for someone who has already come; we are living in the end times which nevertheless are not yet; we are free, but with our liberation still to come. Liturgical time does strange things, maintaining a perpetual tension between what has been, what is, and what will be in the future; but the message of today’s Mass readings is very clear. We are to live with honesty and integrity, guarding our hearts against being weighed down with debauchery (which might conceivably be thought fun) or the cares of life (which certainly couldn’t), and are to wait and long for the salvation we have been promised. That salvation isn’t an abstraction. It is the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Yesterday I posed a challenge to my friends on Facebook. I asked them to try to ensure that their postings didn’t contain any swear words during Advent. Most decided to humour me (thank you, friends), probably assuming I’m an old-fashioned prude. My request actually had little to do with a dislike of vulgarity and much more to do with a sense of the importance of language. I wonder how many made the connection with Advent and the coming of the Word, the Word spoken by God to redeem us all? The connection between the words we speak and God’s creative Word may not be immediately apparent, but it is there, in the same way that our humanity is a connection with the flesh-and-blood Jesus of Nazareth. Nothing is trivial any more; everything is shot through with potential glory or damnation. That is why lies or crudity or intentionally hurtful/offensive speech is unworthy. It reveals only too clearly what is in our hearts and distances us from God. As the apostle said, how can the same lips bless and curse? It is surely an impossibility — an impossibility made so by the fact of the Incarnation.
So how exactly are we to live with honesty and integrity in a state of preparedness for the breaking in of God into our ordinary human existence? To be honest, to live with integrity, means that there should be a correspondence between our inner and outer being. There should be in all of us a profound reverence, a kind of awe — for God, for ourselves, for others. It should mark our whole existence, but because we tend to forget, Advent is a good time for trying to recover our sense of the holiness of God and all that he has created. The words we use are just one area of our lives where we can both exercise some restraint and, at the same time, open ourselves to the new way of being that the Incarnation has brought about.
This morning, with Advent new-minted and the Church’s new year just begun, perhaps we could all reflect on how we are going to try to make this season holy, how we are going to become more reverent, more open to the wonder of God in himself and in the people and events that constitute our world. A little watchfulness over ourselves, a little patience and generosity towards others, a little more fervour in prayer, such things may cost us dear but they will make our Advent fruitful for the whole Church.