Archbishop Peter A Comensoli
You will all be familiar with the various ‘second and third’ channels of the major free-to-air TV stations. By-and-large, they are ‘catch-up’ stations that show repeats of programs first released on the main channel. So, you can get re-runs of Seinfeld, Midsomer Murders, favourite movies, even the nightly news. As comforting and convenient this is on a lazy Sunday evening, let’s face it, it’s just the same old stuff being offered over and over.
I wonder if you might think of Advent – or any of the major seasons of the Church year – as a bit like the repeat channels on TV: reassuringly familiar, but just a bit ho-hum? Haven’t we seen and heard it all before? We know the story; we’re familiar with the readings; we’ve seen it already.
Yet, at its heart, Advent is a time for looking towards what is to come, and not a time of reminiscing about the past. As our first reading from Jeremiah puts it: See, the days are coming when honesty and integrity will be practiced, and when salvation will be assured. These are words to remind us that Advent exists to point us forward, not to take us back. Advent is always the episode still to be seen, not a repeat of what’s already happen.
“But…,” you might protest. “But we do know what happened – Jesus was born; the Saviour came; the story has been told.” That’s a major temptation for all us Christians – to think it’s all over, and there is nothing more to come. It is certainly the view of many in the world today: that Christianity is a spent force, a museum piece, an old and tied story.
But I want to say back to you: this is not what our faith is about. Christianity is not an idea about something – a theory about God – that was once tried out by humanity, and has now had its day. That is not the Christian faith we are called to believe in. Rather, Christianity is a relationship with someone – a friendship with God – that can continue to live and flourish.
So, might I simply remind you today that the annual recurrence of Advent – like any reunion with a friend – is always a new moment in that relationship. And if we wish for that friendship to grow, then new meetings are always needed. This is the point that Paul made to the Ephesians, and which is for us as well: May the Lord be generous in increasing your love… make more and more progress in the kind of life that you are meant to live.
So, what might this year’s Advent be for us? Will it simply be a comforting repeat of an old idea, or will it be a new experience in an ongoing relationship? Might it be a time of genuine renewal in friendship with Jesus, who is reaching out to us? Advent is indeed a time of watching and waiting for the Saviour. But this is not by way of a repetitious old, but by way of a hopeful new. Each Advent offers us a new stage in the journey of our ongoing encounter with Jesus, who is coming now to save us. It is, as He said in the Gospel today, a time to stay awake… a time to pray for strength… and a time to stand with confidence before the Son of Man. May Advent this year be our time to renew our friendship in Christ.
[Celebration of the Feast of the Vietnamese Martyrs: In celebrating this feast of the Vietnamese martyrs at the beginning of Advent, you, the new generation of Christians, are being invited to join with your saintly ancestors in the ongoing journey towards the Lord. May their lives be for you a sign of love; may their faith be for you a witness of hope; and may their deaths be for you an assurance of life.]