Jesus said to his disciples: "be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come." It is like a man, travelling abroad. He leaves home and places his servants in charge, each with his work, and orders the gatekeeper to be on the watch. Watch therefore; you do not know when the lord of the house is coming, whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning. May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to all: 'Watch!'" Mark.13.33-37.
As Cyril of Jerusalem told his catechumens in the 4th Century, "We do not preach only one coming of Christ, but a second as well, much more glorious than the first." In this lecture he juxtaposed the two comings for which we prepare in Advent.
"At the first coming he was wrapped in swaddling clothes in a manger. At his second he will be clothed in light as in a garment."
"In the first coming he endured the cross, despising the shame; in the second he will be in glory, escorted by an army of angels."
His first coming was to fulfil his plan of love, to teach us by gentle persuasion" about His kingdom. At His second coming "we will be subjects of his kingdom by necessity." At His first coming we said: "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord." We shall say the same again at His second coming as we meet Him in adoration.
"Our Lord Jesus Christ will therefore come from heaven. He will come at the end of the world, in glory, at the last day. For there will be an end to his world, and the created world will be made new."
Advent gives us much to ponder about. One of the loveliest ways, especially in the northern hemisphere where the days are short and we are plunged into much darkness is to meditate on the Advent themes around the Adventkranz (Advent wreath).
[The origin of this wreath is in a Rauhe Haus (an orphanage) founded by Pastor Johann Hinrich Wichern outside Hamburg in 1833. He knew only too well that not only the body had to be clothed and fed but also the soul. So for Advent Sunday in 1838 he hung a massive wheel from the ceiling of the meeting room of the Rauhe Haus to which he had attached twenty-three candles for the days of Advent (a season added to the calendar by Gregory the Great), nineteen small coloured ones and four large white ones for Sunday. Pastor Wichern in his diary described how he used the Adventkrans to illustrate his daily talks about the coming of Christ. From this grew the popular German custom of the kerzenandacht (candle-meditation), and eventually this Protestant custom in Northern Germany spread to Catholic Bavaria and over the Alps into Austria. By the mid twentieth century the Adventkrans was widespread throughout both Catholic and Protestant countries, not with twenty three candles but four white ones for each Sunday in Advent and one coloured one, a large rose one to herald the Child of the mystic Rose on Christmass Day.]
Some of the Advent themes for our deliberations and prayers cover 1. Expectation. "He will come to us like the rain,/ like spring rain that waters the earth" Hosea 6.3. "My soul is waiting for the Lord, my soul is longing for the Lord" Ps. 130.3
2. Hope. As Pierre Teilhard de Chardin reminds us "we must hope everything for Christ." "When you look for me, you will find me. Yes, when you seek me with all your heart, you will find me with you says the Lord" Jer.29.13.
3. Peace. "May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep our in Christ Jesus our Lord" Phil. 4.4 That is the peace we need in our lives.
4. Love. St. Paul reminds us it is the greatest of all virtues. Without love all our efforts are in vain." "Love suffers long" 1Cor. 13.
5. Joy. This is the secret expression of the Christian. Even in the midst of great suffering we dare to be joyful because we know the coming of the Christ Child will dispel all our fears. "In thy presence is fullness of joy" Ps.16.11; "I will joy in the God of my salvation" Hab. 3.18.
Such reflections can be followed by spontaneous prayer, where all petitions are gathered together in the Lord's Prayer.
Sometimes prayer in the form of a litany can be substituted. We can make up our own or one which I have put together as suitable for Advent
Litany for Advent
The response is- Come, Lord Jesus! (Revelation 22:20)
In the times when we find it hard to pray, R.
In the times when we struggle to think of you, dear Lord, R.
In the times when we are too occupied by business, R.
In the times when we act so unlovingly, R.
In the times when we find it hard to forgive, R.
In the times when we lack compassion towards our neighbours, R.
In the times when we don't want to love, R.
In the times when we do not want to be quiet and listen to you. R.
In the times when we want only to think of ourselves. R .
In the times when we do not want to get involved in social issues, R
In the times when we want to have more material possessions, R.
In the times when we do not want to examine our consciences, R.
In the times when we forget you on arising, R.
In the times when we forget you on retiring, R.
In the times when we put off living as if this day is the last. R.
In the times when we fail to long for you, R.
Remember that you have only one soul; that you have only one death to die; that you have only one life. If you do this, there will be many things about which you care nothing." St. Teresa of Avila. Then we shall focus on what really matters and be ready for the second coming.
A suitable reading and meditation during these Advent days is from the pen of St. Columbanus' Intructions.
How blessed, how fortunate, are 'those servants whom the Lord will find watchful when he comes'. Blessed is the time of waiting when we stay awake for the Lord, the Creator of the universe, who fills all things and transcends all things.
How I wish he would awaken me, his humble servant, from the sleep of slothfulness, even though I am of little worth. How I wish he would enkindle me with that fire of divine love. The flames of his love burn beyond the stars; the longing for his overwhelming delights and the divine fire ever burn within me!
How I wish I might deserve to have my lantern always burning at night in the temple of' my Lord, to give light to all who enter the house of my God. Give me, I pray you, Lord, in the name of Jesus Christ, your Son and my God, that love that does not fail so that my lantern, burning within me and giving light to others, may be always lighted and never extinguished.
Jesus, our most loving Saviour, be pleased to light our lanterns, that they may burn for ever in your temple, receiving eternal light from you, the eternal light, to lighten our darkness and to ward off from us the darkness of the world.
Give your Light to my lantern, I beg you, my Jesus, so that by its light I may see that holy of holier which receives you as the eternal priest entering among the columns of your great temple. May I ever see you only, look on you, long for you; may I gaze with love on you alone, and have my lantern shining and burning always in your presence.
Loving Saviour, be pleased to show yourself to us who knock, so that in knowing you we may love only you, love you alone, desire you alone, contemplate only you day and night, and always think of you. Inspire in us the depth of love that is fitting for you to receive as God. So may your love pervade our whole being, possess us completely, and fill all our senses, that we may know no other love but love for you who are everlasting. May our love he so great that the many waters of sky, land and sea cannot extinguish it in us: for 'many waters cannot quench love.'
May this saying be fulfilled in us also, at least in part, by your gift, Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.