We begin the Church’s new year at a time when the earth is dark, quiet, strangely still, and we are asked to open our hearts and minds to embrace a silence that stretches beyond the furthest star — the silence in which the Word of God takes flesh and comes to live among us.
On this first Sunday of Advent the Mass readings put before us the pre-conditions that the incarnation of the Word in our lives requires: they can be summed up as living with integrity. Jeremiah makes clear, however, that this integrity is not something we attain by our own efforts. It comes to us as sheer gift: the Lord is our integrity (Jeremiah 33.16). In 1 Thessalonians 3, Paul spells out what the practical effect of this integrity must be, and his prayer is that we may be not merely loving but that the Lord may be generous in increasing our love. That is something to trip over. Our love mirrors that of God — what a privilege — but it is God who is the generous one! How else are we to be blameless in his sight? What can we give that we haven’t already received? The gospel, taken from Luke 21, reminds us that Advent is a time of anticipation. It is easy to forget that we have an eschatalogical hope, that we are indeed awaiting the end of the world as we know it and the coming reign of God. What makes sense if life is for this world only — self-indulgence, planning for a future which may never come (‘the cares of life’) — makes no sense at all once we are plunged into eternity.
St Benedict lived at a time when the old order was visibly dissolving. That is one reason why his Rule is concerned with establishing a pattern of living which is what we might call today counter-cultural. He demands the utmost integrity of his disciples at both the personal and the institutional level. A good exercise for Advent is to read through the Rule noting this theme and seeing how it corresponds to our own lives. For those who would like to know a little more about Advent itself, there are a few notes on our main website, http://www.benedictinenuns.org.uk/Additions/Additions/advent.html (smartphone users, see here).