Advent means "Coming". During this season the liturgies encourage us - as we look forward to the Christmas celebration - to reflect upon the mystery of God's coming among us. It is a season of expectation, reminding us that we live in time.
The irresistible march of time has puzzled philosophers since ancient times. We shall learn a great deal about ourselves, if we get in touch with the moods that shape our lives – moods that almost invariably involve the passing of time: our hopes and fears, our yearnings and disappointments, our sense of achievement, the lessons life is teaching us. Our faith should help us to situate this pattern of our lives within the designs of God. Where the march of time is leading us has only become clear, of course, because God has made known to us why the world was created. If God had remained silent, time would seem like an ever- going nowhere. Since Old Testament times, however, God's people have been given a growing awareness God's designs – through the divine gifts of faith and hope. A greater familiarity with the Scriptures – in this time of renewal - can give us a more lively awareness of the unfolding of God's generous plan, and of our place in that plan. An authentic faith is inseparable from a strong Christian hope – the certainty that God's generous and merciful designs will be fulfilled: in the whole of creation, and in the lives of each one of us.
Today's readings remind us of this hope. The writings of the prophet Isaiah are filled with the message of hope. It is not surprising, therefore, that they will be used in the Advent liturgies of the coming Sundays. Today's reading speaks of the future God has in store for the whole human family - as the fulfilment of all our hopes. The nations of the earth will live in harmony – swords will be made into ploughshares and spears into sickles. The peoples of the whole world will come to share in the blessings of Israel, knowing the life-giving "ways of the Lord" and "walking in his paths". But the prophet reminds those of us – who, though we claim to be God's people, are often unfaithful to our calling - that we must play our part in God's great plan: "Let us walk in the light of the Lord".
The whole message of Paul's teaching is the Good News that the intervention of God that determines the whole course of the world's history has taken place in the life, death and triumphant resurrection of the Saviour – summed up in his words, 'You know “the time” has come'. And he gives us a vivid comparison: with the coming of Christ it is as if the darkest night has suddenly given way to the full light of day, revealing Christ as our life and our protector. In the gospel reading from Matthew, Jesus urges his disciples to situate themselves within the designs of God, because these designs are approaching their mysterious final climax. Christian hope, he teaches us, lives in constant readiness to welcome the Son of Man.
John Thornhill sm