Keeping watch in the period before the coming of the Messiah.
Grant your faithful, we pray, 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. – Collect of the Mass
Everybody knows, even those of us who have lived most unadventurously, says Ronald Knox in a sermon on Advent, what it is to plod on for miles, it seems, eagerly straining your eyes towards the lights that, somehow, mean home. How difficult it is, when you are doing that to judge distances! In pitch darkness, it might be a couple of miles to your destination, it might be a few hundred yards. So it was, I think, with the Hebrew prophets, as they looked forward to the redemption of their people. They could not have told you, within a hundred years, within five hundred years, when it was the deliverance would come. They only knew that, some time, the stock of David would burgeon anew; some time, a key would be found to fit the door of their prison house; some time, the light that only showed, now, like a will o’ the wisp on the horizon would broaden out, at last, into the perfect day.
This attitude of expectation is one which the Church wants to encourage in us, her children, permanently. She sees it as an essential part of our Christian drill that we should still be looking forward; getting on for two thousand years, now, since the first Christmas Day came and went, and we must still be looking forward. So she encourages us, during Advent, to take the shepherd folk for our guides, and imagine ourselves travelling with them, at dead of night, straining our eyes towards that chink of light which streams out, we know, from the cave at Bethlehem.
When the Messiah came, few really were expecting him. He came unto his own and his own received him not. [John 1:11] Most men of that time had been blind to what was most essential in their lives and in the life of the world.
Watch, therefore, Our Lord tells us in today’s gospel. Wake from sleep,[Rom 13:11] St Paul echoes. For we too can forget what is most fundamental in our existence, what our life here on earth is about. Summon the nations, say to the peoples: See, our God and Saviour is coming! Tell it, proclaim it; cry aloud.
The Church reminds us of this with a four week period of preparation, so that we can get ourselves ready to celebrate Christmas once more. And at the same time so that, with the first coming to the world of God made Man, we may be heedful of those other ‘advents’ of God – first when we die, and then again at the end of time. The holy season is thus a time of preparation and of hope.
Come, O Lord, and do not delay. Let us make straight His path…The Lord is soon to arrive. If we are aware that our sight is clouded and that we don’t see clearly the radiance emanating from Bethlehem, from the infant Jesus, it is time to rid ourselves of whatever impairs our vision. Now is the time for a specially good examination of conscience and for a thorough interior purification which will befit us to receive and to welcome that expected guest who is God. It is the moment to take note of the things that separate us from Him, to loosen their hold and cast them from us. Our examination, then, must penetrate to the very roots of our actions and scrutinize deep down in our hearts the motives which inspire our actions.