The Advent season, what happens in it, can be viewed from two aspects. What we do, in terms of our preparation, and what God does. This is a season when we remember Christ’s first coming, his birth at Christmas. But with an equal emphasis, we remind ourselves for his second coming as a Judge.
What God’s role in Advent is, is well illustrated, as an analogy, by the contemplative poet, Janos Pilinszky. In a conversation, entitled ‘On the Margins of the World’, he says about the very ground of his poetry: ‘From the beginning in my life I was instinctively interested in things in the world which ‘fell outside’ from the world. Strictly speaking, my imagination was caught by beings that were exiled to the margins of the world. I felt that if I help them to get back to the heart of the heart of the world, I did something more important than praising those things which enjoyed already attention and had a proven status.’ (‘On the Margins of the World’ in: Beszélgetések Pilinszky Jánossal, Magvető Kiadó, Budapest 1983, p.150)
What God does, what Jesus does in Advent and on the final Judgement day is captured very well in the role of the poetic attention. God is interested in the ignored details of life. He pays particular attention to those who suffer anonymously, the forgotten, the ignored, what is incomplete in one’s life, those situations that can be mended, or when there is no human remedy for a situation. In Advent, he ‘wants to take them back to the heart of the world’. To live a life of dignity, attention, being loved and fulfilled, and functional again. And all this is done to enable them for thanksgiving, and to search Him without any handicap.
So, our task seems straightforward. First, we need to contemplate God in this work, and then, try to imitate Him. By reconnecting what is ‘dead’, ignored, unexamined, uncorrected in us to ‘heart’ of payer, the miracle of Advent will happen. Namely, both our lives and the world become real, more real, step by step.
The second inspiration for our Advent preparation I am drawing on is a historical homily by John Henry Newman. Already its title is inspiring: ‘Thine eyes shall see the King in His beauty: they shall behold the land that is very far off’ (Isaiah 37:17) This homily was written in an age a good hundred years before the internet. When we read it, it is striking how real this Second Doming is! And how compelling is the task to prepare ourselves for this life-defining personal encounter. It is not a poetic imagination to say with Newman: Christ second coming is taking place in our life. It is going to happen soon, in our lives. It is a real event. We are going to see our Lord soon. It is a real return; it is going to happen in this advent season. Let us savour the weight of this statement.
If this return is real, Newman suggests that we should take very seriously the means of preparation which God offers to us. This is worship. ‘This indeed is the most momentous reason for religious worship. [People] sometimes ask, Why need they profess religion? Why need they go to church? Why need they observe certain rites and ceremonies? Why need they watch, pray, fast, and meditate? Why is it not enough to be just, honest, sober, benevolent, and otherwise virtuous?...Why must they be partakers in what the Church calls Sacraments?’ Newman in answering this says that all this is for a simple reason. We are ‘one day to change our state of being. We are not to be here for ever. Direct intercourse with God on our part now, prayer and the like, may be necessary to our meeting Him suitably hereafter. And direct intercourse on His part with us, or what we call sacramental communion, bay be necessary in some incomprehensible way, even for preparing our very nature to bear the sight of Him.’ He asks, ‘what it would be to meet Christ at once, without preparation?’ When his glory was suddenly manifested to the Apostles, they could not stay in his presence. ‘Depart from me, form I am a sinful man, O Lord’ said Saint Peter. And St John, ‘when he saw Him, fell at His feet as dead.’
So let us appreciate the time of preparation which we have been given. And let us be challenged and inspired by these words of Newman’s sermon: ‘Christ does not visibly show Himself. He has put a veil on, and He sits among us silently and secretly.’ How does this poetic line influence your preparation? How can it alter the course of your actions? How will you act differently, and respond to this real presence?
These are verbal Icons, expressions of how the world is seen from Saint Augustine's..