Advent: Looking forward in hope

by Monsignor Robert Draper

Advent this year arrives at the beginning of December. For most of us that is the gloomy time of the year, but the anticipation of celebrating Christmas invites us to look forward to a time of celebration – something to lift the gloom perhaps! But living as we do in the South-West of this country; we can already see signs of hope and promise to lift our spirits. When I lived in Cornwall it was rare that there were not already the first daffodils in flower by the first Sunday of Advent – and even now living further East, I see their flower heads when the weather has been mild. That is always a sign of real promise for me: daffodils with their bold golden trumpets announcing that Spring is on its way, that nature is about to burst forth in our world.

And of course before long the gloomy days will be turning lighter once the shortest day has passed – and for us as Christians, light is a powerful sign for the season – think of the Advent Wreath in our churches and homes. Christ coming into the world “like the dawn from on high”. Just when we are in most need of light, the light of the world comes to dwell amongst us.

So Advent is a time to look forward – to look forward to the One who is coming to us, and that is why Advent is a time of preparation for the Feast of the Incarnation, the coming of Christ as the child of Bethlehem. But that coming is not the only coming of Christ we celebrate. If you look at the readings and prayers of the first part of Advent, they have a different vision of the coming of Christ. They look forward to his final coming when he will come in glory with all his angels. We are invited to look forward to the time when Jesus will come again and establish the final reign of God. Some of the imagery of that in parts of readings we will hear in Advent can sound quite frightening, because it will involve the destruction of all that is evil, but actually it is something that we are longing for. Every week in the Creed we announce that “we look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.”

So we are looking forward to the Christ child born in Bethlehem to Mary, announced by the magi and the star, and greeted by the shepherds. And we look forward to the Christ who will come in glory to restore all things to God; but we can recognise those comings of Christ because we encounter that same Christ here and now. The Christ who came at Bethlehem in history is the Christ who will come in glory, and is the Christ who even now comes to us in mystery – the one who we encounter in his Word and sacrament, who feeds and nourishes us at Mass, with whom we spend time in prayer, whom we encounter in our brothers and sisters in the community, and who we meet most especially in the needy and the poor.

We look forward to Christmas because it is a time of promise and hope – and they are essential for us on our pilgrim journey through life. We look forward to the final coming of Christ because he will bring all things to completion; but we also look forward to those daily encounters with the same Lord whom we meet in so many ways.