Advent means ‘coming’. This is a season of joyful expectation, of watching and waiting and preparing. Each time we celebrate the Mass, we begin with a short period of preparation that takes the form of an examination of conscience before meeting Christ in Word and Sacrament. Likewise, John the Baptist was told by Zechariah his father that his divinely-given task and vocation was to ‘go ahead of the Lord to prepare the way before him, to make known to his people their salvation through forgiveness of all their sins’. This is a season of preparation and prayer to enable us to take Christ’s coming seriously and to await his coming. We don’t possess God, in book, institution or experience; we wait for him.
No other God, the scripture tells us, acts like the God we believe in towards those who trust in him. We hear the prophet Isaiah calling on God to ‘tear the heavens open and come down’. We (and nature), he tells us, would melt in God’s presence. In the Incarnation and at the end time, as Saint Paul reminded us elsewhere, we will see things no eye has seen and hear things no ear has heard.
The preparation that is required of us is to act with integrity and to keep God’s ways in mind. Then, we are told; God will guide us and keep us in his ways. Despite the hardness of heart, the lack of integrity and the wrongdoing of God’s people, we are told that God does not remain angry, or allow us to wallow in sin. The images used by the prophet are of a people who are unclean, even filthy in their behaviour and practices. He speaks of a people who are blown along like withered leaves and who make no attempt to invoke God’s name or to ‘catch hold of God’. This is a people from whom God has hidden his face and who are at the mercy of the consequences of their sins. ‘And yet Lord’, continues the prophet, ‘you are our Father; we the clay, you are the potter. We are all the work of your hands’.
The psalm continues this call to God to visit his people. The image used this time is of a vine that God has planted ‘with his right hand’. The call to God is not to forsake his people but to give life so that they may call on God’s name.
Saint Paul reminds us that God is generous and God is faithful. God showers us with gifts and graces, often through the people in our lives who have moulded and shaped us. He encourages us to keep, ‘steady and without blame’.
Saint Mark’s Gospel is brief and direct in style. His Advent message and his Gospel are in character. He tells us simply to ‘be on our guard’, to ‘stay awake’ carrying out our allotted tasks, like a servant awaiting the master’s return. He tells us of the necessity of constant preparedness, of always being in a state of grace.
Our call on God this Advent-time is to come; to visit his people; to bring us back; to protect us and to save us from the consequences of our sins. God’s call to us is to a life of integrity; to constant watchfulness for the Master to the awaked-ness of a true disciple who knows that Christ comes, not only at Christmas and that his coming brings judgement but that Christ comes in many disguises and is possessed by no-one. We must always wait for him.