Panorama from the Dukes Pass in The Trossachs, Scotland as the dawn mist rolls down from the Bens; John McSporran, 2017

Fr Neil’s message about the readings for Mass on Advent Sunday (29 November)

In this first Sunday of Advent our Lord in the Gospel reading exhorts us to be on guard and watch for the master’s return. Of course, in Advent we look towards celebrating Christ’s first coming in the nativity. However, we are also reminded that our Lord will return again at an unexpected hour to wrap up all things. It’s this second coming that Christ encourages us to watch out for. We do not want that day to find us (spiritually) fast asleep.

It’s all very well being told to stay awake for that great day but our ability to remain watchful must depend on other qualities — or we will soon get tired of trying to remain in a state of readiness. Our two other readings give a clue what will enable us to better take our Lord’s words to heart and allow a more active spiritual engagement with the season of Advent.

Our Epistle tells us that acts of remembering and thanksgiving for the gifts of grace we have received from the Lord, enable us to wait with patience ‘the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ’. A simple examination at the end of the day or with the family over the evening meal that asks ‘What am I most grateful for today?’ and ‘What am I least grateful for?’ enables us to see where God has been active through the day and where we might need to put things right that we got wrong. Sacramental confession is particularly helpful during Advent and of course it is no coincidence that the eucharistic prayer at mass means thanksgiving. The mass is our central act as a community of faith and greatest means of preparation for our Lord’s return.

The reading from Isaiah reveals a second attribute that allows for watchfulness, and that is longing. ‘O that you would tear down the heavens and come down’ reveals a passionate longing for the return of the Lord when justice and mercy might be established. This sort of longing is only achieved when love rather than cringing fear marks our relationship and understanding of God.

Christ’s first coming reveals the nature of God’s will and love for us and all creation. Yes, God is holy and requires justice, but he is also merciful. I most certainly make mistakes and get things wrong. I am a sinner and there is no hiding that, yet love reveals that every time I acknowledge my mistakes, am sorry for the hurt they cause and seek in him forgiveness, then I always discover the depths of his merciful love. ‘There is more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents…’

This encounter with love transforms our watching and waiting into a desire and longing for the one who out of love sought those who were lost that they might be restored again, like the Prodigal Son. Love allows a watchfulness that longs with joy for the one who has captured our hearts.

Therefore let this Advent not disappear under the weight of shopping and tinsel, but be a beautiful time of watching with thanksgiving and a passionate longing for the return of the Lord in all his glory.