29.11.2020 First Sunday of Advent B

The Season of Advent has been celebrated since around the fourth century AD when Christmas was fixed on 25 December. It has usually been marked by prayer and fasting – though less than in the lead-up to Easter, hence the popular name “Little Lent”. What is Advent really about? Our word comes from the Latin adventus, meaning ‘coming’ or ‘arrival’, and indicating a season of waiting. The word adventus is in the past tense. It’s as if the One we await has already arrived. Coming or come – which is it? How do we reconcile this tension?
Well, we partly solve this paradox by acknowledging that God is not bound by sequence and duration as we are. The mystics say past, present and future are “eternally now” for God. The theologians recognize this also, as when Aquinas taught that in the one moment of the ‘Sacred Banquet’ of the Mass we remember Christ’s Passion past, we receive His grace presently, and we are promised His glory in the future. The liturgy also acknowledges these multiple time-zones, as when on Easter night the priest traces a cross, the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet and the current year on the new paschal candle while saying “Christ, yesterday and today, the beginning and the end, Alpha and Omega, all time and all ages belong to Him, to whom be glory and sovereignty through every age, for ever.”
The secret to this season of Advent, then, lies in the tension of its very name and this in turn tells us something important about ourselves. Advent points not to one but three comings of Christ. One coming is in the past, when Christ came two thousand years ago as a helpless Babe; hence the Prophet Isaiah named Him in our first reading today ‘the ancient Redeemer’ (Isa 63:16-17; 64:1-8). One coming is in the future, when Christ will return in glory; hence that same Prophet’s prayer, “Return, O Lord, for the sake of your servants… tear open the heavens and come down.” And one coming is in the present when Christ is here amongst us in word and sacrament, in minister and community, in creation and redemption.
Three comings, then, each a divine gift, and each with its particular effects in us which, when they become habitual, are theological virtues in our character. Let me explain. That Christ has already come is something we know by faith: the more we ponder that coming in Advent and throughout the liturgical year, deepens its mystery and proclaims it to others in our words and deeds, the more faithful and faith-filled we become. That Christ will come again is something for which we hope, and the more we anticipate that coming with longing and excitement, the more we pray for it and help bring it about by making “God’s kingdom come and will be done” in our lives, the more hopeful and hope-giving we will be. And that Christ is here amongst us, come to our Church, our families, our own hearts today is something that evokes our love: and the more we know and serve Him in the here and now, the closer He comes to us, the more loving and lovely we become.
So there’s guard duty to be done, our Gospel suggests, and any guard worth his salt looks backwards and forwards (Mk 13:33-37): but only so he can see what’s right before him. Be on guard, watching and waiting, ready and willing, right now, Jesus says. Though we know not the when of that day and hour, we do know the Who that is coming, our Father-Redeemer, and so our Advent is pregnant with expectation, longing, love.So today and in the days ahead, look backwards and forwards. Look backwards to the first Christmas as you erect your cribs and decorate your trees, as you pick and post Christmas cards with the Nativity on the front, not just happy holiday cards. Look forwards to Christmas ahead, by getting in the party food and wrapping the presents, planning whom you’ll bring to the Lights of Christmas. And as you look backwards and forwards, avoid your head spinning by doing something extra in Advent, something spiritual. Try some extra prayer, like Mass and Confession, or our Advent prayer The Angelus each noontime. Try some fasting, perhaps in proportion to the feasting ahead or already begun.