Advent and Christmastide is a season like no other – we can be easily overwhelmed by the many things we have to do and lose sight of true meaning of Christmas – the baby born in the manger, God made man, the Word made flesh.
ardinal Vincent encourages us take up the invitation of Advent and be hopeful of a new and fresh encounter with Jesus, the Word made flesh.
The season of Advent and Christmastide invites us to a fresh encounter with Jesus, the Word made flesh, God made man.
Advent is charged with a sense of excitement and anticipation, of warm memories and rich traditions, all of which create within us a sense that this is a special and blessed time of year. In this season we can be hopeful and open to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus, the carpenter of Nazareth, a man like us in all things but sin. No one is excluded from this invitation but it does involve some risk. In trust we step out to meet him. We will be richly rewarded. We will realize that the Father is actually rushing out to meet us, that Jesus is already there to embrace us, and that the Holy Spirit guides us towards the Light that shines in the darkness. Every meaningful encounter involves humility and honesty. As we prepare to encounter Jesus, the Eternal Word, we pray from our heart: ‘Lord, I have let myself be deceived; in a thousand ways I have shunned your love, yet here I am once more, to renew my covenant with you. Save me once again, Lord, take me once more into your redeeming embrace.’
Our goal is to grow in faith and deepen our understanding ‘….that he who lies in the manger is ruler of the stars. He who suckles at his mother’s breast is both great in nature and very God, and yet small in the form of a servant’ (St Augustine). In the fullness of time, God, in a plan of sheer goodness, sent Jesus, the Son of God, to become man, that we could become children of the Father and share in his divine life. God draws close. God calls us to seek him, to know him, to encounter him and to love him with all our heart, soul and strength. As Christmas Day draws near our focus will be on God’s coming as a small child, the baby in a manger. The astonishing humility of God evokes in us a wholehearted response. We bow low in adoration and lift up of our hearts in praise and worship.
Advent is a season to watch, prepare and pray. The liturgy invites us to watch the drama of the birth of the Saviour made present in the celebration of the Church. We look forward to the return of the King with expectation and longing in our hearts. We pray ‘Come, Lord Jesus, Come.’ The Liturgy of the Word in the first week of Advent warms our hearts, setting the tone for the season: the simple faith of the Roman Centurion inspires us. St Andrew’s daring faith gives us courage.
St Francis Xavier’s practical faith gives us hope. In the midst of our busy lives, the Spirit calls us to prayer, to be still and to rest in God’s presence. Advent is full of promise and opportunity; promise, because we reflect on the fulfilment of God’s coming among us. Of him the prophets said: ‘In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land’ (Jer 33:15). ‘For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace’ (Isaiah 9:8). It is a time of opportunity, because we can deepen our prayer life and enter anew the great mystery of faith: God made flesh who dwelt among us.
The Roman Centurion’s encounter with Jesus was raw and refreshing. He is a model of how to approach God in prayer. He knows that Jesus only has to say the word and his servant will be healed. It’s a shockingly simplistic faith and reveals the radical call of prayer. Jesus healed his servant with a word without even a touch. Yet, St John spoke of faith as touch. ‘That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes and touched with our hands, the Word of life’ (1 Jn 1:1). By taking flesh and coming among us, Jesus has touched us. Through prayer he continues to touch us, transforming our hearts, pouring out his grace and lavishing his love upon us. As St Augustine said: ‘To touch him with our hearts: that is what it means to believe.’
St Andrew had a radical, life-changing encounter with Jesus. He responded to the call of Jesus. Our prayer is that we might do the same. In prayer, reading the Scriptures, receiving the Eucharist, in the daily events of life, we experience Jesus calling us to an ever deeper faith. In this kind of faith we confess with our mouth that Jesus Christ is Lord and believe in our heart that God raised him from the dead. This kind of prayer isn’t ashamed or embarrassed or afraid to bear witness that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. On the contrary, we cling to him. ‘Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame’ (Romans 10:11).
We are familiar with the frustration of waiting for a bus, train or flight which is running late. We know the sense of anticipation of imminent exam results. We recognise the nervousness of a bridegroom waiting at the altar or the joy mixed with apprehension in waiting for the birth of a baby. Each of these situations create its own inner tension; we are on tenterhooks, on high alert. So too in Advent. The Holy Spirit heightens a sense of expectation, preparation and excitement that God is coming into our lives. In Advent we pray: ‘I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, and out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand’ (Psalms 40:1-2).
The goal of our Advent pilgrimage then is to return to the Father’s house. God is a perfect communion of love: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Through faith we enter this great mystery. We tend to think that we are searching for God, but God is actually searching for us. In the Parable of the Prodigal Son we learn, ‘But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him’ (Luke 15:20). We can be tempted sometimes to think that the Father is remote and distant, far removed from our daily lives. The Scriptures reveal the very opposite. ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love’ and ‘As one whom his mother comforts so I will comfort you’ (Isaiah 66:13).
May the Lord bless us all this Advent. May his Word be born afresh within us. May we receive an anointing of grace so that his light may shine more brightly within us and in our world today. ν