The prayer for the First Sunday of Advent summons the faithful to a spirit of expectation, a confident hope that Christ, born long ago at Bethlehem, will come again at the end of time. As we journey through Advent, watchfulness prepares us for that Second Coming. We are reminded that when we welcome Christ into each and every moment of our present lives his Second Coming can only come as the triumphant fulfilment of our every hope.
But what do we hope for? The routine of daily life can, without any conscious decision on our part, stifle a hope that should lead us into the future. Too easily we become resigned to the way we are and the direction our world is taking.
Advent challenges our impoverished expectation: “The time has come. You must wake up now: our salvation is even nearer than it was when we were converted. The night is almost over, it will be daylight soon. Let us arm ourselves and appear in the light.”
St Paul’s words to the Church in Rome bring to Advent a sense of urgency. Now is the time to choose. Do we settle for a shadowy future trapped in the darkness of our own indifference? Or do we choose Christ, whose light alone can lead us into a future of his making?
We are called to share the vision that marked the beginning of the ministry of the prophet Isaiah. His words were addressed to a world threatened by the violence of war, a world that had grown accustomed to infidelity, that felt trapped in its own indifference.
The prophet set before God’s people a vision of soaring hope, a vision in which they, like the temple of the Lord towering over the mountains, would be lifted high above the indifference of the past. With those pilgrims of old, Advent invites us to abandon the past, to begin a journey into God’s future. “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, that he may teach us his ways so that we may walk in his paths.”
Advent, therefore, must begin with a prayerful listening. Are we satisfied with our lives as they are or do we long for a fullness of life that is yet to come?
The imagery of Isaiah’s vision breaks through the fears of a broken and disjointed world, promising a peace that brings healing to divided hearts. “He will wield authority over the nations. They will hammer their swords into ploughshares, their spears into sickles. Nation will not lift sword against nation, there will be no more training for war. Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.”
During Advent we are invited to welcome the Lord, who alone can transform broken hopes and heal forgotten hurts, bringing peace to sinful lives. If we are to embrace this hope, we must heed the urgency of Christ’s call in the Gospel: “Stay awake, because you do not know the day when your master is coming.”
If Advent is an invitation, it is an invitation that must be accepted now. Tomorrow may never come. It is a joyful invitation: “I rejoiced when I heard them say: Let us go to God’s house!”