‘On Guard!!’ This was our cry as young boys, with our left arm bent, hand on hip, the other hand brandishing our sword as we acted out a fencing scene from The Mark of Zorro or another swashbuckling epic. These sword fights were fast and furious and often ended in one or other of us being ‘run through’. Personally, more than actually executing my opponent, I enjoyed flicking his sword out of his hand and hear it clatter to the ground. On guard, part warning, part command. On guard, stand ready, look out!
This was the typical play of being young boys. We were ready for the enemy. Ready to defend and indeed at times ready for the attack. Some of the language of Advent is a little bit like that. Be on your guard. Stand ready. Stay awake. It’s important to look closely though at what we are being asked to do in Advent, and perhaps more importantly why. We know that a very important aspect of Advent is waiting. However as said before this is not an idle passive waiting, but rather a waiting that has, at its core, a getting ready. The waiting of Advent is really about preparation. It is a waiting that does not take place in a vacuum. Our waiting is for a little baby, Jesus, Christ the Lord.
Apart from the notion of waiting I think an important Advent word is the word awareness. I really mean a gospel awareness or an awareness of Jesus. I think there is a big danger that Advent will simply come and go. With all the madness that can creep into this time of year…..who will visit? Whom will we visit? Real tree or artificial tree? Shopping, presents? The Turkey. Frozen or fresh? Before we know it, it will be December twenty-second or twenty-third and Advent will be over. That would be a real pity because Advent is a special time, a beautiful time. Maybe this Advent can be different? Maybe this could be our best Advent yet? So could we turn into a different way of getting ready. As well as decorating, shopping and cooking we could get our hearts and souls ready for the great focus and feast that is the reason for Advent, namely the birth of the Saviour of the World. What might it be like to look to Advent in a fresh way? What would it be like if we could develop some of this gospel awareness or a renewed awareness of Jesus during this Advent journey?
Did it ever occur to you that sometimes people are inclined to go through life asleep, or at least periods of it, half asleep. Indeed this reminds me of a conversation I had with an old Brother when he spoke of people who had ‘died’ years ago, or at least they had completely given up, though we had not got around to burying them yet. The Living Dead. These are people who live in their own little cocoon, engaging only with a few, and having little or no interests. What would it be like if in our determination to make this a special Advent we actually resolved not to be half dead and half alive? How might we be assured of not being one of these people? Not only this, but of never becoming one of them?
My suggestion is to develop a new Advent awareness. This essentially means to be on the look out for Jesus. To open our eyes, our ears, and most importantly our hearts, to recognise him in the day to day. Most especially in the mundane, the ordinary. It makes sense then, that if Advent is about preparing for Jesus born at Christmas, we get ready, and we begin to get ready today. Once again, we should not be surprised that a key ingredient in this getting ready is sacred silence. When we declutter our hearts and step away from the constant noise we have a much better chance of hearing the Lord. Something that would assist us enormously on this Advent journey would be to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation: to tell the Lord that we are truly sorry and to receive his mercy and forgiveness. However I really want to propose Advent awareness to you. This is the daily active keeping an eye out for Jesus, and the profound tuning in to where we might hear him. Once this awareness is given attention it begins to become a habit. We begin to ‘spot’ the Lord in the ordinariness of the day. I saw him yesterday in a little new born baby and I regularly glimpse him in a word of a phrase, such as the lady whom I overheard on her mobile saying, ‘God will see you through’. Sometimes it’s simply in the crisp fresh day and in the tumbling leaves as they fall from their homes, the trees, who wait, and wait patiently, for the heat, the light and new life that will certainly come. I hope and pray that you have a great Advent – it’s a really special time!