Why Are We Waiting? Advent 2013

Today is the first Sunday of Advent in the year of Our Lord 2013, and we are still waiting. What are we waiting for, and why? The Lord has come; the Lord has redeemed us on the Cross; so why do we begin again this annual cycle of reading the Old Testament prophecies about the coming of the Messiah? Are we play-acting, pretending to wait for that which is already here? Of course not. We are doing two important things. First, we are entering into liturgical anamnesis — a remembrance which is more than a mere recalling of events. It would be more accurate to call it a participation in those events despite the distances of time and place that separate us from them. We are indeed awaiting our Saviour, and each of us knows that there are whole areas of our lives that need his redeeming touch. Second, we are telling the story of how we came to be, and story-telling, the narrative of our past, is an important part of our identity as Christians. It is how we make sense of the world and our part in it.

As we shall see, Advent divides into two unequal parts, each of them beautifully expressed by the two Prefaces of the Mass. The first Preface of Advent, used from today until 16 December, concentrates on Christ’s coming again in glory at the end of time, and the hope his promise brings:

‘ . . . he assumed at his first coming the lowliness of human flesh,
and so fulfilled the design you formed long ago,
and opened for us the way to eternal salvation,
that, when he comes again in glory and majesty
and all is at last made manifest,
we who watch for that day may inherit the great promise
in which now we dare to hope.’

That is how we begin Advent: with hope, watching and waiting for the day that will bring the realisation of all our hopes, and not ours only, but those of all the world.

May you have a blessed Advent.

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The Advent Call to Integrity

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).

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