Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, dear friends,
Here we are, at the start of Advent, aware now that we are going to have to live through every liturgical season of 2020 with the restrictions and challenges of this pandemic. There is a lot of frustration in the air, with a new level of restrictions over the next 3 weeks. But also hope, with the prospect of a vaccine in the new year, and given early reports, the prospect of an ethically produced vaccine which doesn’t create a profound moral dilemma for Catholics. For this we pray.
Meanwhile, we are called to live the present moment as well as we are able; that is all that the Lord ever asks of us. A few days ago I received an insightful email from a priest friend who asked to remain anonymous, but who has given me permission to share his reflection. He wrote, “forgive me. I don’t like to say nice things about the COVID pandemic, but a thought came to me this morning: For the first time in my entire life, this Advent is really going to be Advent, a season of waiting, a season of waiting in hope and anticipation. We should probably do something, at least personally, to recognize the gift of this and remember it, because we will probably never see this again in our lifetimes. For the first time for as long as I can remember, Advent will not be ‘Christmas already’. It will not be a month of Christmas parties. It will not be a month of Christmas concerts. We won’t be able to skip over the season of waiting to jump right into Christmas celebrations on the 1st of December like we always do. We’ll have the opportunity, like never before, to actually live Advent as the gift it is, instead of glossing right over it because we just can’t wait.”
I resonated deeply with my friend’s insight. As with every year at the start of November, as we started hearing Christmas carols in stores, I think, beautiful carols, but do we need to start just yet? The pandemic and the anticipation for a vaccine has put us into a place of waiting, and the season of Advent invites us to ground our waiting in a much deeper promise, one that we can live by, one that gives us great resources for living with joy and hope while we wait.
This Advent, my little team with whom these messages are prepared thought it might be good to have an Advent message each week, centred on one of the wonderful Advent hymns in our rich tradition. It is good and right that new composers and musicians continue to produce new Advent songs for us, but let’s not lose sight of the magnificent hymns which have come to us from past generations of peoples of faith. So in each message this year, I will reflect with you on Advent in light of one of those hymns, starting with the English hymn “People Look East”.
St Paul writes that all creation is groaning in the one great act of giving birth, and Advent is a season where we listen for what is being born, what is coming. Each verse of People Look East taps into that longing. The earth is bare but already preparing for the rose. The birds are waiting and preparing: “Even the hour when wings are frozen, God for fledgling time has chosen.” The stars are keeping watch when night is dim, waiting for the coming of a great light: “shining beyond the frosty weather, bright as sun and moon together.”
And what are they waiting for? It is love that is on the way, as the end of each verse reminds us: love, the guest, is on the way; love the rose; love the bird; love the star; love, the Lord, is on the way. The first readings of our liturgies through Advent, all from the prophets, mostly from Isaiah, remind us that God is coming into our world. We are invited to live in the presence of that promise. The yearnings within us, the yearnings of all creation, were not made to go unfulfilled. We do not live and die for nothing. We were created for a purpose. God is coming, God is creating a future for us, creating a Kingdom through and with and sometimes despite us.
Finally, the hymn reminds us, like the Gospel for the first Sunday of Advent, that our lives are a space where we are to get ready for Incarnation, where we await the coming of God in the flesh by staying awake, by getting ready. “Make your house fair as you are able; trim the hearth and set the table…. Set every peak and valley humming, with the Word, the Lord is coming.”
Dear friends, let us allow this masterpiece of a hymn to call us to a place of deep hope, keenly attentive to the promises of God which surround us this season. If it is a season of darkness in our world and in our lives, let us not despair. God is in the midst of it, bringing something to birth. Of Advent, Karl Rahner writes: “What must live in you is a humble, calm joy of faithful expectancy, which does not imagine that tangibles of the present time are everything.” Brothers and sisters, let us drink deeply from the wellsprings of hope and promise which Advent proclaims.
Watch Video Message HERE