The Collect for the First Sunday of Advent prays that we might run forth to greet Christ at his coming and that, gathered into his presence, we might possess the Kingdom of Heaven. Advent is therefore a season of hope, a hope that directs our prayer to what we shall become when Christ comes again.
Human nature tends to overlook what it cannot know for certain. The gospels, while firmly witnessing to the Christ who would come again, gave no certain time for that coming. Instead, so as to discourage the apathy of aimless lives, they encouraged an attitude of watchfulness.
“Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Be on your guard, stay awake, because you never know when the time will come. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake!’ ” To watch, to be awake, is a state of mind, a sensitivity to the possibilities of grace in every moment of our lives.
Sadly, such expectation of a life lived with Christ is easily dissipated. Long ago the Prophet Isaiah had spoken of the sin that so easily hardens our hearts against the presence of God. Without recourse to God’s presence we wither and die like leaves on a branch. We are carried one way and another, as dead leaves are blown in the autumn wind. More disturbingly, we are described as those given up to the power of our sins.
Isaiah’s words, though spoken long ago, remain an almost perfect description of our own world, a world that neither seeks nor cherishes the presence of God. While we must live in this world, we must confess that its competing attractions can make of us the dried leaves blown aimlessly in the wind. The craving for instant satisfaction can indeed become an obsession, a power that blots out the presence of God.
While Isaiah lamented the indifferent faith of his own generation, he clung to the confident hope that the God of Israel would not abandon his people. “Oh, that you would tear the heavens open and come down – at your Presence the mountains would melt.”
Isaiah’s prayer summons us to hope and repentance. Now is the time to acknowledge that our sinfulness, not to mention the many legitimate concerns that fill our lives, can blunt our sensitivity to the presence of God. Now is the time to acknowledge the indifference that so easily turns hearts to stone. Let us pray for the Presence that melts mountains, that rekindles a faith grown cold. We cannot achieve this of ourselves. Only in prayer are we surrendered to God as clay is surrendered to the potter. Then we become the works of his hand.
Writing to the Corinthians, St Paul was filled with confidence that we can respond to Advent’s call. “The witness to Christ has indeed been strong among you so that you will not be without any of the gifts of the Spirit while you are waiting for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.”
Let us, like Paul, begin Advent encouraged by the many signs of God’s presence in our lives. and our world. Christ is already among us. It is in his presence that we journey to his second coming.
“God will keep you steady and without blame until the last day, the day of Our Lord Jesus Christ, because God has joined you to his Son Jesus Christ; and God is faithful.”