Thinking our Way into Advent
Advent is a time of preparation for Christmas. The secular world starts celebrating Christmas earlier and earlier. Christmas specials start appearing as early as September in some shops and Black Friday is seen as being the first of the Christmas sales.
For us, however, Advent is not just impatient waiting for Christmas to get here, in the same way as childhood isn’t wasted time until we become ‘real’ people as adults.
There are two distinct halves of Advent and two aspects to our spiritual approach to Advent. The first half of Advent, until the 16th December concentrates on the Final Coming of Christ at the end of time. Even our hymns look at the end of all things. We don’t start anticipating the first coming of Christ at Bethlehem. Then from the 17th December onwards, we start preparing our hearts to celebrate the coming of the Christ-child in Bethlehem. We hope that this year, at least, even though there was no room in the inn, there may be room in each of our hearts for Jesus to be born in them anew.
So there is waiting, anticipation. But that anticipation is tinged with awareness of our unreadiness. Much as we look forward to the coming of Christ at the end of time, most of us, if we’re honest, know that we’d rather have a little time to tidy our hearts and our lives to make them ready for Christ’s inspection! And certainly, a few dusty corners may need a bit of sweeping if Christ is to be born in our hearts anew this Christmas.
That is why Advent is a quiet anticipation, hence purple vestments rather than joyful colours just yet. It is an acknowledgement of the truth of our human nature. We trust and hope in God’s love but we do not presume upon that love.
The purple of Advent is, strictly speaking, a different purple to Lent: in Advent we use a bluey-purple, in Lent a reddish-purple — blue for birth and red to remember the passion.
So perhaps it is a good time to begin to reflect on the quality of our response to Christ.
This past week, on the 30th November, we celebrated the feast of the Apostle, St Andrew, and perhaps reflecting on his life gives us a way to assess our Christian journey. The first thing that jumps out at you, in the few references to Andrew in the Gospels, is ‘immediately.’ St Mark uses ‘immediately’ or ‘and immediately’ forty times in his Gospel. Indeed, Mark’s Gospel is the ‘airport’ Gospel … even more gripping than anything Dan Brown could pen.
But in Matthew, of all writers, we have Andrew and Peter, James and John, leaving their boats, their nets, and their families immediately and following Jesus.
And we ask ourselves, how complete is our following of Christ, how focussed are we?
Then in John’s Gospel, Andrew and his companion, disciples of John the Baptist, hear John say, ‘Behold, the lamb of God,’ and they immediately follow after Jesus.
This leads to something interesting. More than once, I have heard people explaining this passage by saying that, when Jesus asks Andrew and his friend, ‘What are you looking for?’, they answer, ‘Rabbi, where do you stay?’ because they are embarrassed; they don’t know why they are tagging along behind Jesus. They don’t know what to say so they blurt out the first thing which comes into their heads.
This is far too facile. There are no unnecessary words in John’s Gospel. Often in John’s Gospel, when people ask Jesus a question, his answer seems to have nothing to do with the question. However, if we stay with the text, we realise that he is answering either their deeper question or the question they should have asked.
And here it is the same. The ‘key’ is the word, ‘stay.’ Sometimes our translations have abide, remain or stay. But in the original Greek of John’s Gospel, it is always the same word. It is one of John’s motifs, like light and darkness. For example, ‘If you remain (abide, stay) in me and I remain in you … ’ Start looking and you will find it all over John’s Gospel.
The next line opens it up further: ‘ … and they remained (same word) with him the rest of that day.’ Andrew and his companion did remain with Jesus the ‘rest of that day’, the ‘day’ that was their lives. They followed Jesus from then on.
And in the other places we meet Andrew in the Gospels, he is always bringing more people to Jesus … his brother [Jn 1:40-42], the little boy with the fives loaves and two fish [Jn 6:8], some Greeks [Jn 12:20-22]. He spreads his joy at hearing and finding Jesus to others.
We are looking forward to Christ’s coming at the end of time, to his coming as a child in Bethlehem. The Medieval theologians taught, the Second Coming of Christ was actually in the Spirit at Pentecost so that Christ is still present among us until the end of time within our hearts. He abides in us truly.
He stayed with Andrew: ‘If anyone loves me … my Father and I will come to them and make our home [abode] in them.’ This is the indwelling presence of God through the Holy Spirit in our hearts. And then, like Andrew, our lives will be attractive enough to draw others to Christ.
How like Andrew are we? Do we lead others to Christ? Do we put Christ first?
Fr Scott, CSsR