Irish Dominican Church, Tralee, Co Kerry

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St Catherine of Siena

Reflections for the First Sunday of Advent (2nd December 2018)

Who are you Waiting For?

Jesus begins his message to us this Sunday with words that don't exactly get us into the jolly, festive mood to celebrate our journey towards Christmas. Jesus says '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.' (Luke 21:25).

Jesus' words emphasise the Second Coming, on the need to stay awake and prepare. But they show the difference between a Christian understanding of Advent & Christmas, from a purely secular one; namely, that Christians are actually waiting for Christ to come again at the end of time and are celebrating his coming to us 2018 years ago in a stable in Bethlehem.

Waiting can be difficult. Lent might be the season of Penance, but in some ways it can be easier because you can at least feel like you are doing something in the penance you are doing. Advent by contrast, is a season of waiting, of expectation. The temptation is to skip the waiting part of Advent and to treat Advent as a warm up to Christmas. Which is what the secular notion of Advent has become.

But the waiting and preparation we do in Advent, are meant to be a joyful, but also spiritually fruitful time. St Paul urges in the second reading "to make more and more progress in the kind of life that you are meant to live: the life that God wants, as you learnt from us, and as you are already living it." (1 Thessalonians 4:1).

These two notions of Advent – the Christian one and the secular one- can be compared to two men waiting at the airport for the arrival of a VIP. One of the two men decides he'll go for a drink or two while he's waiting, while the other person uses his time of waiting well to prepare himself for this most important of occasions. The Christian spends time in prayer, performs charitable deeds, and does those things joyfully because he's looking forward to the VIP's arrival. His spirit of joy comes from the fact that he is eagerly anticipating the VIP's arrival.

By contrast, the man upstairs drinking isn't even waiting any more for anyone. He may have once been waiting for Jesus, but he no longer does. He has fallen away, and forgotten what waiting in Advent means. He thinks the pub he is in is as good as it gets. When that VIP comes, he will not be present to enjoy the real celebration. He does not heed the advice of Jesus in this Sunday's Gospel where he says "Watch yourselves, or your hearts will be coarsened with debauchery and drunkenness and the cares of life",(Luke 21:34).

Advent is a beautiful season in the life of the Church. It is a time to take stock of who we are and where we are headed. It is a time where we remember that, whatever our state of life or our current situation- the best of times for the Christian are still ahead of us. It is a time when we remember that we are here on this Earth waiting for Jesus to come again. At the same time, we prepare for Christmas, that season when Christ was born. Jesus in a VIP worth waiting for, and worth preparing for joyfully.

It is a season of joy because we look to the future and realise that, as Jesus says this Sunday "your liberation is near at hand", (Luke 21:28). We Christians live in the 'already' of Christ's birth in Bethlehem 2018 years ago, and the "not yet', of God’s eternal Kingdom.

No doubt, Advent will be a busy time because there are some very real preparations to be made for Christmas. We have gifts to buy, food to prepare, and cards to be bought and send off, and so on. In the midst of this, lets remember Him for whom we are waiting. Jesus Christ, born over 2000 years ago of Blessed Mary, who ascended into Heaven, who will come Judge the Living and the Dead, and Whose Kingdom will have no end.

Written by Fr Daragh