We begin the Church’s year where we ended it, looking forward to our final Goal, the end of time, with a Gospel reading taken from near the end of Mark’s Gospel, just before the Lord’s Passion. Last Sunday, the last of the Year, on the Solemnity of Christ the King, we contemplated the last judgement in Matthew’s Gospel. We do this because Christian faith is always looking forward to what God promises; we commemorate the past only so that, giving thanks, we may renew our hope in what is yet to come. Looking forward in hope is pivotal to our faith in God and love for others, even though Christians are now a bit shy of speaking about what is promised in the world to come, so that we don’t sound like we are promising “pie in the sky when you die”. While out of love for those created in God’s image and likeness and for all God’s creation, we strive to protect them and to build them up, that trains us toward the goal of our faith, which goes beyond perfecting this world. We look forward to what is even greater than this world can ever be, as we await the blessed hope and the coming of our Saviour, Jesus Christ.
Advent is both about preparing ourselves now to celebrate again the birth in history of the only begotten Son, and also about preparing ourselves for the second coming of our Saviour in our future. Each of us, personally, can imagine the end of time as the moment of our death when life is changed not ended. However, though we cannot even imagine what it could mean to reach the end of time or the end of the world, our Christian hope is that the end of time is our transition to what God has desired for us throughout our history, our salvation, which is beyond our imagining. We are preparing for a sort of birth into the fullness of life, which, if we are ready to receive it, saves us and does not destroy us. We can be worried and distracted by so many things that we might miss the opportunity of being ready to receive the most important moment. This season of Advent invites us to an attentive waiting to be awake and ready like the servants in the Gospel, unlike Judas who betrayed him at midnight, nor like Peter, who at cockcrow was unready and denied his, master, nor like the leaders who at dawn condemned him. But what is it we await?
The prophet Isaiah tells us we are waiting for the Lord, our Father, whose ancient name is Our Redeemer. That sounds like a common title for God, but the Redeemer is the one, in the Jewish Law, who is pledged to protect, to set free, to defend, to avenge the weak and vulnerable. Israel recognises that God does all that for them, and that their hearts are hardened so that they will not allow him to be their Redeemer. Israel asks to be remade in the same way that a potter reshapes the clay to serve its desired purpose.
As we begin the Advent, preparing for Christmas, and for the end of the Civil Year, we can each ask ourselves we need to be reshaped by the Potter, to be set free by our Redeemer? How do I need to be awake and watchful so that I notice his presence and his call in my life?
Pope Francis gives us a hint by naming this A Year of Consecrated Life. For all of us, that will mean reflecting on how our life is consecrated to the Lord’s service; for some it invites a deep reflection on a call that we have heard bubbling up in our hearts, to follow him in Consecrated or Religious Life. He invites religious to ask if and how we too are open to being challenged by the Gospel; whether the Gospel is truly the “manual” for our daily living and the decisions we are called to make. The Gospel is demanding: it demands to be lived radically and sincerely. It is not enough to read it (even though the reading and study of Scripture is essential), nor is it enough to meditate on it (which we do joyfully each day). Jesus asks us to practice it, to put his words into effect in our lives.
Without the sure hope of the fullness of life which God promises, the lives of religious are pointless, leaving no family and wealth after them, which instead gives a degree of freedom from the constraints of thinking as the rest of the world does.
I am counting on you “to wake up the world”, since the distinctive sign of consecrated life is prophecy. … “Radical evangelical living is not only for religious: it is demanded of everyone. But religious follow the Lord in a special way, in a prophetic way.” This is the priority that is needed right now: “to be prophets who witness to how Jesus lived on this earth… a religious must never abandon prophecy” (29 November 2013).
Prophets receive from God the ability to scrutinize the times in which they live and to interpret events: they are like sentinels who keep watch in the night and sense the coming of the dawn (cf. Is 21:11-12). Prophets know God and they know the men and women who are their brothers and sisters. They are able to discern and denounce the evil of sin and injustice. Because they are free, they are beholden to no one but God, and they have no interest other than God. Prophets tend to be on the side of the poor and the powerless, for they know that God himself is on their side.
Pointing us again toward our goal, of the fullness of life, eternal life with God, in this season of Advent and this Year of Consecrated Life, the Church asks each of us, “How do you keep watch in the night and sense the coming of the dawn”; “How are you a prophet of God in our world, a witness to how Jesus lived on this earth?” “How do you wake up the world?”