Today is Advent Sunday – the first day of a new Christian year. It is, as the Scriptures urge, a time to wake up. To shake ourselves, to take stock of our lives. And to do it NOW! There is an urgency to Advent. Urgent, because God is working his purposes out in our world and in our lives. Advent proclaims loud and clear that there IS a purpose to our lives, and that there will be an end, and that that end is coming ever nearer. For that reason, Advent has always traditionally had as its themes, the ‘four last things’; death, judgment, heaven and hell. These sober realities are coming nearer to us each one of us. Or as a friend of mine used to put it with a bit of a grin, ‘None of us gets out of this alive’! So, Advent is a serious and challenging season, and challenges us to take stock of our lives, and to do it NOW.
The Gospels are full of this sense of urgency. Jesus’ words are so often full of this urgency. We hear it whenever Jesus encounters men and women. Jesus doesn’t just wander around Galilee uttering timeless, philosophical dictums or epigrams. He is not essentially a philosopher – he is a prophet. He speaks OUT, he speaks hard things which challenge, and shock, and outrage. He tells a parable and immediately says, ‘What do you think?’ How will you respond? Now. He challenges, and confronts, and brings judgment, now. To one he says, ‘Change your life.’ To another, ‘Repent. Follow me. Sell everything you have. Leave your mother and father and family. Come. Now.’
The sun is setting. The night has begun. The season of Advent marks the start of the new Church year, and, like the Jewish day that begins once the sun has descended, our year begins with the night season.
Advent is a season of looking ahead. We anticipate the coming of the Lord both in our looking forward to the commemoration of his birth, as well as our hopeful belief in his coming again. It is, therefore, a season of the affirmation of our Christian faith and joy.
But the night is dark. The night is cold, and lonely, and we have not been given leave to rest until the warm embrace of the new dawn. Indeed, it is exactly the opposite. Christ gives us the order: “Keep awake.”1 Our Lord gives us this command, to keep watch at the door for his return. He does not even give us the time of his coming back, assuring us only that “about that day or hour no one knows.”1 There is no known end to the tunnel, no hour at which we can punch out and leave our shift at the night watch. We simply must watch, and wait. And lest we think we might have the sweet comfort or stimulating diversion of impermanent things, Christ tells us that “heaven and earth shall pass away.”1 All things will crumble; all things will fade.