This weekend we begin our short season of Advent, as we prepare for the advent or the coming of our Lord, guided as always by our Sunday readings. A few words first about this season. We prepare, of course, for Jesus’ coming to us at Christmas; what is usually called the first coming of Christ. We should also think of His second or final coming at the end of time or, as we say in the Creed at Mass, “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.” St. Bernard instructs us that between this first coming at Christmas and last coming at the end of time, Jesus in fact comes to us in many ways each and every day: in prayer, in people and events, in the Sacred Scriptures and, of course, in the Eucharist. Advent, then, is very much a time when we focus on Jesus’ coming to us in all these ways and, of course, His presence among us at every time and in every moment of our lives.

An image that may help us is to see Advent as very much like a journey. As with any good journey, we not only have a final destination in mind (the coming of Jesus and our encounter with him); but we also use a map (or even a GPS) to guide us on our way there. Our prayers and readings for each Sunday provide this guide and help us to journey well.

The theme or guide in our prayers and Scripture readings for the first Sunday of Advent is to watch and wait for the Lord. Incidentally, in the second week of Advent we think of John the Baptist and his mission to prepare a way for the Lord. John decreased as the Lord increased. We are called to do the same; that is to let the Lord grow in our life. Our third week places before us the great and important attitude that every Christian is called to adopt, namely an attitude of joy. We rejoice for the Lord is coming, he is near to us. We can recall that this joy is not something superficial, or as Bernard Bassett called it “contingent” (on things going well or on others); but rather is a gift and an inner peace and strength that is there regardless of life and its ups and downs. In our fourth and final week, we celebrate the annunciation of the good news that God is indeed with us. This is true not just at Christmas, but for every moment of our life.

Thinking then of our first Sunday in Advent, how do we watch and wait for the Lord? Let us be honest, for many of us watching and certainly waiting are not strengths that we enjoy. For example, we get antsy waiting in line. We have instant makeovers. Since being in the USA, I have learned that a yellow light does not mean slow down and be ready to stop, but rather slam the foot on the accelerator! Watching, waiting and being spiritually awake though are crucial for us as Christians. Otherwise, our hearts will become drowsy, though hopefully not from carousing and drunkenness as our Lord in the Gospel mentions!

Watching and waiting are not a case of sitting around, twiddling our thumbs. Instead, the Lord asks us to have a disposition of active waiting; that is to be active and awake, ready for the Lord to come. As our First Reading (Jeremiah 33:14-16) and psalm (Psalm 25) remind us: now is the time when the Lord’s promise is fulfilled and so now is the time to deepen our knowledge of God’s ways and paths. In the Gospel, our Lord asks us to be “standing erect and holding our heads high” This is a great example of good body language; that is, of standing to attention! This posture is symbolic of us being alert and ready to do God’s will. Are we doing this, or are we spiritually slouching or even sprawled out asleep?

St. Paul puts it well: we are to be blameless at the coming of the Lord, by conducting ourselves to please God (1 Thessalonians 3:12-4:2). We can do this by spending a little extra time in prayer, volunteering for some outreach activity, or by going to confession to clear out all the junk that acts like an obstacle to the Lord coming to us. This time of year is so very busy at school, at home and at work and all those shopping days to Christmas are disappearing rapidly. The Church wisely gives us this special season of Advent to help us in all this busyness to prepare for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ. So, let us use this time well: let us journey through Advent well and let us prepare well so that as the Lord comes to us, we may have hearts and minds open and ready to welcome him. Let our prayer be the same one as the very first Christians: “Come, Lord Jesus!”