First Sunday of Advent, Year C, 2021
It’s worth seeing our opening prayer as the context for our readings today. This is usually the case on Sundays, but it seems especially apt today. Indeed, the prayer helps us pray on the eternal mystery of Christ coming to us. We prayed: “Grant your faithful, almighty God, the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ with righteous deeds at his coming, so that, gathered at his right hand, they may be worthy to possess the heavenly kingdom.” This is a profound prayer with which to begin our preparation for Christmas. It speaks of the many different ways that Christ comes to us.
You are probably tired of me mentioning this, but: the first coming of Jesus prepares us for the second coming of Jesus. This second coming is clearly the point of the opening prayer. And we hear this in our Gospel: Christ gathering us up at his right hand, just as he is at the right hand of the Father. Christ handing over his whole life, us included, to the Father, at the end of time, when Christ will be all in all.
But Christ comes to us in other ways, which are also mentioned in our opening prayer.
We pray for the resolve to run to meet him. This prayer therefore speaks of the graces of faith and hope. Our faith grounds us in the truth of Kingdom inaugurated at the first coming of Christ. And hope for his second coming urges us ahead, encourages us to persevere. We hear this in all three readings. And so, the prayer refers to how Christ comes to us daily in the different graces that the Holy Spirit anoints us with, especially through His Word and his sacraments in the Church. Christ coming to us in our hearts to make us ready to receive him when he comes in glory. Making us confident. Making us eager.
Finally, we hear that when we do meet him at the end of time, we are to run out with righteous deeds. What are these righteous deeds? They are the ways in which we have greeted Christ when he has come to us in the poor. Jesus has told us what final judgement looks like. Jesus has told us how he comes to us in the needy, in all different circumstances. So, not only does Jesus comes to us in grace to prepare us to meet him at the end of time, he comes to us in our neighbour, preparing our hearts to meet him. He prepares our hearts through our recognition that we need God to meet the infinite demands of justice and mercy. And Jesus prepares out hearts for his coming by stretching our hearts in love of our neighbour.
All these different ways that Christ comes to us, therefore, remind us that Christ is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. Christ coming to us is an eternal mystery. The way he came at the first Christmas is how he continues to come to us in grace, and how he will come to us at the end of the universe.
One final note: that image in our opening prayer of running. This could be a theme within the theme. Our gospel and second reading in a sense set out our racecourse and the demands of training. The need to be spiritually fit in order to complete the race. The need to run to the end.
But our first reading, and our second reading, in a sense gives us the finish line. The Lord our integrity. This is who we are running to. And I think it is worth remembering that it is the finish line that is the point. It is the finish line that makes the run worth it. That imbues it with meaning. In a sense, it the finish line that is the cause of joy.
Perhaps this is worth praying about this Advent. How are we running? What do we look like when we are running?
There is a genre of videos on Youtube that you might have seen if you’re a sucker like me. It is videos of returned service men and women surprising their families. Sometimes it is a mum or dad surprising a child. Sometimes a child surprising a parent. Sometimes a sibling returning for a special moment for a brother or sister. They are wonderful videos and they usually involve running. There is a moment when the revelation occurs. The arrival is revealed. The eyes are opened. And the family member or loved one does not experience that moment like a trap. He or she always experiences it like a starter’s gun. They begin to spring forward towards their loved one.
Just like we are told Jesus will gather us up in his arms, the family members are gathered up in a wonderful embrace. You see the same thing often outside of schools especially with the early grades, at the beginning of the school year.
Will my running look like this? Does my running look like this right now? Do I want God to change my heart so that I can run to him like this?
And do I realise that I can run like this to God if I just realise that God is running to me like this at every moment?