Reflection for the first Sunday of Advent

by Fr Mark James OP

First Sunday of Advent. Cycle C.

Stay awake, praying at all times

Happy New Year everyone!!! Many blessings for the new year!’

Am I a little premature in wishing you for the new year? Not liturgically. The Catholic liturgical year begins on the First Sunday of Advent.

We have started a new cycle of readings. We have completed the B-cycle and now move into the C-cycle where the Gospel readings change from the Mark to Luke.

Advent means ‘coming’ or ‘arrival’. We celebrate Jesus’ arrival or coming in three ways. First, it is that he came 2000 years ago. The first reading from the prophet Jeremiah speaks of the coming of the Messiah who, we Christians believe, is Jesus. As the first reading says: ‘The days are coming when I fulfil the promise I made to the House of Israel and the House of Judah’ (Jer 33:14). Jesus was born in a stable in Bethlehem. This was his first coming. We celebrate this at Christmas.

But we also anticipate Jesus’ coming on the last day, on Judgment day, at the end of the world. This is what we call his second coming. The Gospel today speaks of this. ‘And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory (Luke 21:27).

But there is a third coming of Jesus and that is reflected in today’s second reading. ‘May he so confirm your hearts in holiness that you will be blameless in the sight of our God and Father (1 Thess. 3:13). This is the welcoming of Jesus into our lives here and now. Meister Eckhart, a Dominican mystic and preacher, asked: ‘What does it avail me that the birth of the Son is happening, if it does not happen to me? That is should happen to me is what matters.’

Advent is about preparing for Jesus’ coming, not only as a remembrance of the past, or as a fearful anticipation of the future but rather as a joyful welcoming in the present. It is like the book of Revelation (3:20) reminds us: ‘I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.’ Advent is at time to become aware of Christ who is standing at the door of our hearts. Are you aware that Jesus stands at the door of your life, knocking? He wants to be let in but are you willing to let him in? Or is your life too full of the distractions of this world? Or too full of fears and anxieties? Or are you too full of your own plans about how your life must work out?

Meister Eckhart reminds us that if we want the Son to be born in us this Christmas we must empty ourselves of self-will, empty ourselves of what we want God to do for us, we have to empty ourselves of our plans and desires for our lives and seek only to do his will. Eckhart says that when God finds us empty, and bare and virgin, he will enter our lives.

Letting go of our will and being open to God’s will is not an easy thing to do. It means becoming awake of all the things that prevent us from hearing his knocking on the door of our hearts. We need to spend time in prayer and in silence to become conscious of all the noises in the interior of our lives. All the pressures that are upon us on the outside too. We need to become still and silent within, so we can take a deep and considered look at our lives. This means time must be given to prayer otherwise we will not be awake.

When we are quiet within we will see where it is in our house that we need to do spring-cleaning. Where are the cobwebs? Which rooms of our inner house needs tidying and sweeping out? This is the purpose of Advent, a time to prepare ourselves for Christ’s coming. We need to get our lives and our house in order so that when Christmas comes, and Mary and Joseph come knocking on the inn door of our hearts, they won’t be turned away because the inn is full. Rather they will be made to feel welcome because the house will be ready, bare, empty, receptive and welcoming so that the Christ child can be find a home in us to be born. Otherwise he will again be born in a stable and not the inn of our lives.