Sunday sees the beginning of the Church’s new Year, and is the first Sunday of Advent.
The shops, for weeks and months, may have been exploiting Christmas for commercial benefit, but only now does the Church begain her preparation, and that preparation takes the form of a certain retreat from festivity!
Advent is not Lent and in particular lacks Lent’s strongly penitential character. However it is a time for recovering a sense of our need for Christ, of remembering humankind’s struggle against sin and exile from God. And how our liberation comes only because of Christ’s self gift.
The Gospel this Sunday, unsurprisingly, seeks to focus on on what is most important.
Jesus said to his disciples: ‘There will be signs in the sun and moon and stars; on earth nations in agony, bewildered by the clamour of the ocean and its waves; men dying of fear as they await what menaces the world, for the powers of heaven will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand erect, hold your heads high, because your liberation is near at hand.
‘Watch yourselves, or your hearts will be coarsened with debauchery and drunkenness and the cares of life, and that day will be sprung on you suddenly, like a trap. For it will come down on every living man on the face of the earth. Stay awake, praying at all times for the strength to survive all that is going to happen, and to stand with confidence before the Son of Man.’
As Advent begins there are indeed nations in agony, human beings are afraid, and we remain in need of the Saviour who has come.
In the first part of Advent we focus especially on the anticipated second coming, and our need to be ready, confident, prayerful, safe and saved. This readiness is not a private, personal, inner state: it is a being turned out in love and care for others.
- When/how do I show care for my neighbour?
- Where do I find myself caught up in self-indulgence and self-preoccupation? Why?
- How will I use Advent to prepare myself (and others) for Christmas, the feast of the Incarnation? You might find some helpful suggestions here.
Window in parish church of Villeneuve-lès-Avignon. (c) 2014, Allen Morris.