“May the Lord be generous in increasing your love.” That is a joyful prayer from our second reading and seems a fitting start for the Church's new year beginning this Advent Sunday. “May the Lord make you increase in love and abound in love” is another way of putting it. The reading continues: “May God our Father and the Lord Jesus strengthen your hearts in holiness.” We have received the faith, and we have, in the cycle of our years, tried to live out our faith. St Paul prays that the holiness we have received and have tried to integrate into our adult lives will be enlarged and strengthened. “Finally,” he adds, “we urge you in the Lord Jesus to make more and more progress in the kind of life you are meant to live and are already living.”
Christmas may be for children, but Advent is for adults. It is a realistic time–a hopefully realistic time–when we adult Christians have to admit, in these dismal winter days, the shoddiness and second rate nature of much of our living as Christians. In our on-going pilgrimage of faith and hope and love, all three have flickered and faltered. There is one passage from the prophet Isaiah, whose writings characterise this Advent season, which has a definite autumnal and windy feel to it. “Our righteousnesses are as filthy rags and we do fade as a leaf and our iniquities, like the wind, carry us away.” Shorn of false righteousness before God as the winter trees blasted by the winds. Advent is for adults.
But it is a hopeful season: not optimistic, not trusting that matters will somehow turn out all right. Rather a time to renew a passionate hope in God and in all that God gives us in faith in order to live in hope and charity. Above all hoping in the great Christmas gift of God, the Lord Jesus and the Holy Spirit given to us by him. The world around us at the moment is a very dark place: international tensions, economic crises, unemployment, floods at home and civil collapse abroad. It is almost a picture of the apocalyptic first reading for today's mass. But the brothers and sisters of the Lord are called to be children of hope and faith and, above all, charity. We are not to be submerged by anxiety, bowed down by despair. “Hold your heads high”, the gospel tells us. “Stand erect”. Salt to the earth and light to the world.
To acquire the resources to be children of hope, or rather to integrate the graced strengths from our Master, it is necessary for us to be “Awake”. “Wake up” is the Advent call. Wake up and be prayerful at all times, pondering all these things in the light of faith and hope and charity.
John the Baptist will be the dominant character in these first weeks of Advent. He calls us to re-conversion of life. Along with him, Isaiah the prophet will guide us, through his poetry, to place ourselves within the vast providence of our heavenly Father. We are to re-direct our ways and our thoughts into His ways and His thoughts. The simplicity of today's psalm is our Advent prayer:
Lord, make me know your ways.
Lord teach me your paths.
Make me walk-in your truth, and teach me:
For you are God my saviour.....
The Lord's friendship is for those who revere him;
to them he reveals his covenant.
In our adult years since our baptism we have tried to walk in his paths, stumbling, going astray, drifting off course. Now is the time to re-enter the flow of his providence for us and the world and to re-enter with joy the friendship he shares. “Be not like horse and mule, unintelligent”, says the psalmist, “needing bridle and bit.” It is not by coercion that we follow his ways but by leaving behind the wrong paths more gracefully responding to the friendship he shares, beginning in a manger. The animals are ahead of us: “the ox knows its master and the donkey its master's crib.” We draw our courage from the weakness of the child who is God with us.