Advent is a parable. Advent is a good word to describe the whole of life. Isn’t our life a preparation for meeting the Lord?
In his eternity, beyond time, God has his single, intricate plan: to send his Son to his creation, to unite it all in him, to give us the grace of being his sons and daughters. This is the eternal Advent, hidden in God.
Last Friday we kept the feast of the Immaculate Conception. It’s the feast of how Mary was prepared by the Holy Spirit to be the human Mother of Emmanuel, God with us.
In the prophecies of the Old Testament, we hear the voices that prepared God’s chosen people for the coming kingdom of the Messiah. John the Baptist crowns this movement. He is the voice crying in the wilderness, Prepare the way of the Lord. And “all Judaea and all the people of Jerusalem made their way to him”. There was a response.
The 2nd Preface of Advent sums it up well: “All the oracles of the prophets foretold him, the Virgin Mother longed for him with a love beyond all telling. John the Baptist sang of his coming and proclaimed his presence when he came.”
The challenge of December, we could say, is to integrate all our preparations for another Christmas with Mary’s “love beyond all telling” and the song of longing in the heart of John the Baptist.
And all this points beyond itself. Advent is a parable. The whole of life is an Advent, the whole of life is being prepared, and preparing ourselves. for the coming of the Lord. Being born, growing up, going to school, finding work, finding a partner for life if we’re lucky, establishing a family, and then retiring, ageing and dot, dot, dot: this arc, this parabola, this journey, all of it, underneath the surface, is being prepared and, if we are wise, preparing ourselves for the coming of the Lord. It’s this meeting Advent promises. “You will be my people and I will be your God.” “I will dwell among you”. “I will live with you.” You will be mine and I will be yours, and nothing you love will be lost. This is the overarching, all-encompassing purpose of God. “What we are waiting for”, we heard, “is what he promised: the new heaven and the new earth, the place where righteousness will be at home”. What a beautiful phrase that is! The promised place, where everything will be right and we at home with the holiness of God. God’s will is that we become single in heart and simple enough to welcome him: a level road with the valleys of our sadness and despondency and hopelessness raised up and the hills and mountains of our pride and obstinacy levelled down. If we live our life with God, this is what happens. A purification of the heart. A readying for God. A purging of dross. A widening of our capacities. Setbacks and successes, frustrations and fulfilments, sorrows and joys; they can all converge. God can work with all of them. “All Judaea and all the people of Jerusalem made their way to him” – to Christ actually, and all our experience, too, can find its perfect cadence in him. Often we find it hard to ‘read’ our lives, to understand what is happening to us, but a notion of Advent – life as Advent – can help us see; at least glimpse enough to keep us going. If we look at life through the eys of Mary, we can understand it as Christ growing in us, a long pregnancy. If we listen to John, we can think of preparation for a coming: the necessary roadworks. How often John the Baptist can feature in our lives: the counsel of friends and companions, a word from a priest, something speaking wisdom in ourselves, turning us to face the Lord again. How many calls to conversion even in a single day; Baptist moments. Or, recalling the wise men, we can think of a star rising in us. Even Emperor Augustus, just thinking of government revenue, was an unwitting agent of the coming of God.
“O people of Zion” sang the choir at the Introit today, “behold the Lord will come to save the nations, and the Lord will make the glory of his voice heard in the joy of your heart.” One day, there will just be Him and me, face to face. If our life has been an Advent, that is the joy that will erupt in our hearts.
St Mary’s Cathedral, Aberdeen, 10 December 2023