“Be watchful with a generous heart” Reflection for 1st Sunday of Advent
We live in a world that continues, slowly but surely, to reduce, not only the signs of God’s presence among us, but even the footprints he left as he walked among us. We are forgetting our God and this adds to our despair. We try to entertain ourselves with the perishable goods we have been given. And we, the believers, are falling asleep! We are no longer on our guard. Worse still, we seem to be reconciled to this way of life. When we live without faith, happy to be left in peace, undisturbed in our sleep, we give the impression that we too have lost God. Still, the night is not too long. It never is for one who has hope, for one who really loves. If our memory of the absent God whom we love were a bit clearer, the waiting would be less of a burden and would not seem so long. If we really missed him, would we not wait more eagerly for his coming?
As Christians, we believe that the Lord is coming. He is our Future! If we really believe this, then we should be witnesses of hope to the world. If God still has enough trust in us to come to meet us, we have no right to suffocate the hope that is in us, nor to rob others of hope, by our idleness and sleep. It is because God’s witnesses are asleep that his servants are not vigilant, and God’s absence from our world becomes ever more noticeable, more discouraging and dramatic. We, who call ourselves believers, no longer really believe that the Lord is coming, that he is interested in this world of ours, and that he earnestly desires to return among us. Surely this is the reason for the increase in loneliness to be found in the hearts of believers, and the resigned acceptance that somehow the world of today is no longer in God’s hands.
There is one thing we can be sure of; God will return one day. Indeed, he is already on his way! We Christians should be more wide awake and more active than others, because we know that we can hope in the Lord. We know that he is coming. It is true that we do not know when he will arrive, but we know what he will demand of us. Times are difficult, there is less light in our lives, and more clouds accumulate. For this very reason we should be all the more vigilant. Our faith and our perseverance and fidelity as we wait for the Lord’s coming are a protest – discreet but effective – against the evil that exists in the world, the little world of our own hearts and the larger world around us. Living as Christians means not surrendering to appearances, not despairing in the face of the evil that is so evident today. God is coming – this means that there is something is us and in our world that makes him want to come to us, something is us that is good in his eyes. We still have something that attracts God! This is our reason for hope. And if we have even one reason to wait for the Lord’s coming, that should be enough to make us vigilant.
Meanwhile, to sustain our trust, to shorten the hours of waiting, and to make us desire God’s return with greater sincerity, we can pray. We can ask for ever more palpable signs of his presence. To overcome our loneliness we can call him to our side, crying out from our emptiness despite the clouds that surround us. Then he will know that we desire him and that we are waiting for him, and we will be wide awake because we know he is coming.
Prayer that expresses our longing for him is the surest way to avoid despair, and the best way to stay wake as we keep vigil. Prayer helps us to accept the absence of God, in our own lives and in our world, without losing hope of finding him one day. We could pray, for example, with the words of the prophet: “You, O Lord, are our Father. You have always been our redeemer. Why, then, O Lord, do you allow us to get lost on our way, to harden our hearts that they no longer fear you? Come back for love of your servants… Break open the heavens and come down, melting way the hills with your presence…!”
However, praying is not our only response during the time of waiting. Jesus reminds us that the Lord, like the master in the parable, left each one a task to do. If he left us alone, or if we feel we have been left alone, he certainly did not leave us unemployed. It is not enough, then, to wait. We have a mission to carry out. Christian hope can never be reduced to doing nothing, simply waiting for the one who is to come. Living in hope means being busy with our hands, while our hearts continue to feel the Lord’s absence. We may miss the Lord but that does not mean that we do not have work to do. There is no better way to wait for the Lord’s coming than by doing his will until he arrives.