Advent draws us towards the light

POST BY PGallagher

Fr Peter Gallagher SJ reflects on the first week of Advent

The night is almost over, it will be daylight soon [1].  Advent draws us towards the light.  Let us arm ourselves and appear in the light [2].  What is this light?  It is the light of Christ.  Let your armour be the Lord Jesus Christ [3].

In the holy season of Advent we allow ourselves to be equipped not only to see the light but to live in it.  Let us walk in the light of the Lord [4]. The light of Christ presents itself to us in various ways in Advent.  He shines ahead of us as our ultimate goal.  The light also glimmers from Bethlehem and attracts us to the joyful celebration in a few weeks’ time of the birth of Jesus.  Advent itself is bright with the light of One who is always with us. The light of Christ awaits us at the very end; it beckons us forward to Christmas; it is right beside us now. We look forward to the second coming.  We prepare for the coming feasts.  We delight in the presence of the Lord with us today.  We are already clothed in him as we stride forward towards a light that is near and far. Let us go to God’s house [5].  The light inspires us. It focuses our life. It illuminates our path.  So that we may walk in his paths [6]. The light contrasts with the darkness.   It can seem that the light is threatened by darkness.  The future can appear obscure. Present troubles can cast a long shadow.  We can miss the light that is beside us through some inattention or distraction. Let us give up all the things we prefer to do under cover of the dark [7].

In Advent we are being trained to be attentive to the light.  We allow the light ahead of us and in front of us truly to guide us and to direct our life. Let us live decently as people do in the

daytime [8].  Our focus on the light of Christ is a way of living vigilantly.  We are on the watch for Jesus. He is very close but we might miss him.  You must stand ready because the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect [9].  We are preoccupied with other things.  His approach is usually gentle and is always very respectful of our freedom.  The light of Christ is not glaring.  We marvel at the Lord and his doings but he does not customarily dazzle us.  He enters our life discreetly.  Like a burglar, he acts clandestinely.  Jesus however is not a robber.  Stealthily he comes to enrich us.  Imperceptibly, like a thief in the night, he unveils our dearest possession. By the light of Christ, we discover the truth about who he is and what he seeks to do for us.  Like a vigilant householder we stay awake for the arrival of this most welcome intruder [10]. We watch for the light. When we see it at last we realise that it is bright enough for us to live by.   The Lord who is the light of our life reveals himself to us peacefully.  However once recognised, Jesus transforms everything for us. Let us arm ourselves and appear in the light [11].

The peacefulness of the Lord’s approach sets the tone for our preparation for him.   Yet it is God who draws near.  The Lord of the universe reaches down to us.  His mastery dawns on us. We are learning not to underestimate the divine power which communicates itself so mildly.  We are commanded to welcome Jesus, the Son, in peace.  He will wield authority over the nations and adjudicate between many peoples; these will hammer their swords into ploughshares, their spears into sickles [12].  Our equipping ourselves to live in the light of Christ includes our reconciliation with those with whom we have been at odds.  With a firm resolve we step away from the darkness.  We are robbed of nothing.  However we find that when the darkness lifts we have been freed from much that formerly impeded us.  We renounce that in our life which once clashed with Christ. We happily give up our capacity to cut and wound.  There is a frugality about our refashioning of our swords as implements of peace.  This recycling acknowledges that what has up until now been our downfall may now, by the grace of God, structure our repentance, our conversion and our life lived happily in the light.  There will be no more training for war.  O House of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord [13].  The armour of Christ which we now wear is fashioned, at least in part, out of metal mined deep in the darkness of our old life.

In his Confessions [14] Saint Augustine describes how he was converted to Christ.  His hesitations went on for a long time. He wanted to make progress spiritually but the will to change was lacking.   He compares himself to someone who is sleeping and knows it is time to get up but is having difficulty in renouncing the sweet pleasure of slumber. Augustine tells us that he was in despair at his own seeming powerlessness. His miserable thoughts were interrupted by a voice which said “Take and read, take and read” [15].  Augustine had been studying the Letter to the Romans earlier and now he opened it again. The passage which drew his attention was you know the time has come you must wake up now.   Let us give up all the things you prefer to do under cover of darkness.  Let us arm ourselves and appear in the light.  Let us live decently as people do in the daytime.  Let your armour be the Lord Jesus Christ.  Upon reading these lines Augustine was suddenly free.  Before he had merely known what he should do: now he could actually do it.

This Advent we are, among, other things, praying for that strength of purpose which we have long wanted but lacked.  To pray in this way is to go out to meet Christ, who is coming towards us.  His movement towards us feels like the freeing-up, both gradual and sudden, of our previously sluggish desire for God.  The Lord is rescuing us from the darkness where, strangely, we linger.  Our strong instinct is to try to welcome him, yet something holds us back.  Now the light floods in.  The light of Christ shines far ahead of us, right in front of us and beside us. We are bathed in the light of Advent.  Jesus awaits us at the end of time.  To prepare well for the celebration of his humble birth is our immediate goal. The Lord is already our companion on the road. Under all this bright light, our resistance crumbles.  We see the light.  It is Christ.  We now live in his light.

[1] Romans 13.12

[2] Romans 13.12

[3] Romans 13.14

[4] Isaiah 2.5

[5] Psalm 121.1

[6] Isaiah 2.3

[7] Romans 13.12

[8] Romans 13.13

[9] Matthew 24.44

[10] Matthew 24.44

[11] Romans 13.12

[12] Isaiah 2.4

[13] Isaiah 2.5

[14] Augustine Confessions 12.8

[15] in 387 in Milan