First Sunday of Advent – A
Advent isn’t exactly a comfortable season. And I don’t just mean the frost on the windshield and the certainty of January bills. The liturgy of Advent has a strangeness about it that won’t be tamed by the caroling that begins at Thanksgiving or by the outdoor lighting displays.
The measured sobriety of the Advent Masses clashes with the festive rush in the stores. And the urgency of the Scripture readings clashes with our secular culture of materialism and individualism. And, if the truth be told, the threat of cosmic judgment in today’s Gospel grips us no more than the “eager longing” of the Advent hymns.
Just how are we to identify with this season of Advent? Its purple sobriety contrasts with the red and green festival of an American Christmas that begins with October advertising. And for all of the expectancy we feel for the coming of Christmas, the coming of Christ Himself can seem so remote and even unlikely.
What are we to do? We can, of course, feel guilty. But guilt is not the keynote of the Advent season either. Joy is so characteristic of Advent that nearly every Responsorial Psalm is a Psalm of rejoicing. The Advent Psalms don’t say: “Feel guilty that you are not rejoicing.” They just say: “Rejoice!” But it is not exactly the rejoicing of the office party either.
Advent seems to be such an untidy season. Here a comforting Scripture passage, and there a threat; unusual John the Baptist at the edge of the desert and meek Mary in Nazareth; the purple of repentance and the songs of rejoicing; the “last day” in the Gospel on the first Sunday of Advent is a day of final judgment and we pray to greet it with joy. What a mess! No instant relevance and not even a tidy thematic.
How, then, should we deal with Advent? As a cherished heirloom, annually dusted off for a churchly For Auld Lang Syne? As a little bit of “liturgical Williamsburg”?
But here is another possibility: that we attempt to penetrate what the Bible and the liturgy are saying to us during this season – without asking them to say what we would like them to say, and without asking them to say it in a way that we would like to hear it.
For both the Bible and the liturgy are about the relationship of God with His people. And relationships – in case anybody hasn’t noticed – aren’t always tidy.
And the Bible and the liturgy are not always communicating information about the relationship between God and His people. In many cases, they are more concerned with the meaning of the relationship between God and His people.
And while the passages we read in the liturgy are grounded in the past, they are there for us to reflect on their meaning for today.
Advent’s thematic is so simple that it is not likely to make the banners this year: God is present to us. For “Emmanuel” means “God is with us.”
Advent looks to that great feast of God’s presence to us: Christmas.
God is present to His world through His Son, Jesus – who became one of us so that we could become one with Him.
It is unfortunate that we are more inhibited than our medieval ancestors. Their statues and iconography often portrayed Mary as pregnant.
As mothers know, pregnancy isn’t a very comfortable thing. Its hope is tinged with nausea and awkwardness and anxiety. You know that your child is living within you. You can feel the child’s kicking. You know that the child will be born. But right at the moment, you can’t see the face of the one who is to come. But you will.
And that is what Advent – the coming of Christ – is about. The splendor of God’s presence is hidden within the everyday untidiness of our lives – and lies beneath the pain and poverty of this world.
But we live in hope. God is present to us — in His Son, Jesus. We long to see His face, and one day we will. But even now we can feel His life within us and among us.
This Advent season – like the pregnant Virgin Mary – is short on explanation and heavy with meaning.