I have known for a long time that Advent should not be something to dip one's toe into with the proverbial "cautious optimism." Instead, it invites us to take a leap of faith and dive in head-first. On the feast of Christ the King last weekend, we took a long look into the future, and today on the First Sunday of Advent, we simultaneously look back 2,000 years toward that first Christmas, and ahead to the End-Times -- while actually living in our own physical present.
St. Bernard of Clairvaux) - in the manger as a baby, at the end of time as the King/Judge, and in our hearts here in our lifetime make it necessary for us to immerse ourselves in "God's time" - kairos - that three-fold reality that bends our human perception of time. It's fitting, really, because as we begin yet one more round of the Church Year, we need to be reminded that the Liturgical Year is the human equivalent of "God's Time" - or as close as we can experience it in our human lifetime.
The celebrant at Mass at my parish this weekend put it simply - Advent is an opportunity to "start again" - to try one more time to do everything in our life "better." More than that, I see it as an opportunity to become "better" - to enter more deeply into conversion - to walk with Christ through His year... and become more like him - in HIS time, not ours. It is an acknowledgment that our time is really His. As such, it represents an opportunity to reconnect with Jesus' teachings - what it means to be "of" the Reign of God ("Kingdom") and not of the world - what it means to treat others in such a way as to be counted among the sheep and not the goats at the Last Judgment (Matthew 25). It is a time to prepare the way of the Lord by doing our level best to live worthily of what he asked.
The conventional method to is to live a moral life, to treat others well as we encounter them, and to live in piety and charity. The fully-immersed Christian who dives into Advent, head-first, heedless of self and caution, goes even deeper. When Jesus says "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life" he does not merely imply these basics. The "rich young man" of Luke 18 was told - yes - live the Commandments, by all means -- but then do more. Give up everything for the poor and follow Jesus. Over and over, Jesus invites us to put our hand to the plow and not look back (Luke 9:62)- to do the work of justice, to deny ourselves, and to serve without counting the cost. That is the Way of Jesus - risking everything for the Gospel message. It is the "hidden" coming of Christ that St. Bernard describes that comes from doing God's Word. It is only when we do that fully that we will receive consolation, he says.
So, bottom line - Advent and the new Liturgical Year represent another chance to enter fully the scary challenge to trust God enough to drop our needs for security, control and predictability in life in favor of challenge, uncertainty and the possibility of losing our lives in order to gain them.To be ready for the Lord's return is to choose to do all we can possibly do at any given moment, taking into consideration who we are, where we are on our spiritual journey, what our gifts and talents are, and what life-situation we find ourselves in.
How deep will YOU go this year? Toe-dip again? Will you, like many of us, start out with good intentions, but slow down and return to "normal" eventually? Admittedly, this is not an easy challenge - but it is one we have to face every year at this time of new beginning.