As we enter the Advent season, we move liturgically from the darkness that will precede the end of the world to the darkness that hovered over the world at its beginning. This darkness holds within it the promise of dawn. We anxiously await the rising sun. This is a season of expectation and of hope. It is a time for us to listen again to God's promise of deliverance and reconciliation. It is a time for us to be reassured of His relentless love for each and all of us, and for our planet.
This is what Advent should mean for us. It is a time for us to be filled with new hope, new courage. It is a time for us to be reassured that the darkness that overshadows the present moment, whether from sin, sickness, poverty, sorrow, weakness or failure, will be dissipated and driven away by the Sun of Justice, the Word-Made-Flesh.
The Advent Scriptures focus on Isaiah, John the Baptist, Paul and Matthew. Each in his own way proclaims the "good news": Jesus, Emmanuel, God-With-Us, Has Come, Is Coming and Will Come! We listen, and wonder and pray, while we get caught up in the flurry of activities that accompany our preparation for the Christmas holiday. We know this holy season is important for us. We hear the words of promise and of exhortation. What Isaiah saw in prophetic vision we have learned from history. He described what the person and mission of the Messiah would be like; we know from apostolic witness how perfectly Jesus fulfilled that vision, that hope and that promise.
Advent is not a season of false hope, but one of preparation. We are not getting ready for some improbable, imagined event that exists only in fantasy. Our hope is based on the assurance that our God is coming. He has, in fact, already come among us in our own flesh. He has, in fact, already loved us beyond death, has overcome sin and evil, and has seeded us with the hope of Eternal Life.
And He does, in fact, come every day. But we need to keep awake, we need to pay attention... because we don't know where or when we will come face to face with Him; we don't know how He will present Himself to us - we must be prepared for an hour we do not expect.
And so we use these Advent days to stir up this hope in a fearful world, to cultivate that seed of hope to full bloom. We know that the Lord has come... we are certain that the Lord will come. And for us that does not mean waiting in fear and dread for doomsday. We do believe in the second coming of Jesus, and we try to live each day in readiness for that stupendous event. But we also try to live every day embracing His presence in our ordinary, day-to-day, lived experiences.
Especially as this year comes to a close, we reaffirm our belief in all that Jesus has already accomplished in us, and we see in that a promise, a reason to hope for so much more.... for a deepening of our own faith and love... for the power to overcome evil in ourselves and in our world... for the spread of the gospel... for the healing of hatred and the banishment of terrorism and war... for peace and justice.
Advent is not just a time that we spend waiting to welcome again the "baby Jesus". It is for us a time to be alert, to be prepared. It is a time for us to drive away the shadows of sin and despair, so that we can open our hearts and minds and lives to the overpowering light of the incarnate Son of God made man. We want to use this sacred time to deepen our understanding of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. We need to realize again how fully He has entered into the very fabric of our lives. We want to allow Him to transform every facet of our human existence, so that in all things we think, speak, choose and act as redeemed children of God.
This is the challenge - and the precious opportunity - of Advent.