As we start a new liturgical year Jesus invites us to be alert to his coming. The time of Advent is characterized by the attitudes of waiting and attention, hope and joy, because God comes again. Advent leads us to the celebration of Christmas, where we celebrate Jesus’ first coming and we prepare ourselves for his second coming. We celebrate the first coming of Jesus,
2000 years ago, and we expect his last coming. In the first coming Jesus came in a very silent and humble way, unnoticed by the people of his time. In his second coming he will be manifested in power and light: “At the first coming, he was wrapped in swaddling clothes in a manger; at his second coming, he will be clothed in light as in a garment” (St. Cyril of Jerusalem).
Between the first and the second coming, there is, however, another coming of God: sometimes in a very abrupt and noticeable way, other times in the silence of the night, in the breeze of the wind, in the secret of the heart, in the ordinary events of life. What is imperative is always to be alert, to be awake and ready to open the door of our hearts. Whatever the situation, the most important and beautiful thing is the certainty that he comes again and again in new and unexpected ways, as a surprise, at the same time, both old and new. Many times we are convinced that we are the ones who have to take the initiative to meet God. However, our God is the one who tears the heavens and breaks into our lives to change them and draw us near to him: “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down” (Is. 64:1).
While waiting for the Lord, he leaves everything in our hands: our life, our projects, our world. While waiting, we are invited to remain at prayer: “Beware, keep alert and pray; for you do not know when the time will come” (Mk 13:33). Prayer is this mysterious encounter with God and ourselves that keeps us awake. It leads us to the depth of our being where God is always waiting for us. Prayer keeps the dialogue with God open and leads us to the encounter of two hearts, the heart of God and our heart: “heart speaks unto heart” (Cardinal Newman). Prayer keeps us in humility, aware that we are clay in God’s caring and warm hands, ready to be moulded into a new and beautiful vessel. Being clay we acknowledge our weakness and fragility in need of someone who gives us consistency and beauty. The image of the potter in the reading of the prophet Isaiah which appears also in Jeremiah (18: 22), is beautiful.
There is always the temptation to show our strengths more than our limitations; to be in control instead of being led by God; to be the potter, the one who is able to mould himself instead of humbly allowing God to fashion us according to his will and power. The prophet invites us to acknowledge the presence of God, a presence that brings warmth, newness, and love. A presence that is able to transform our heart of stone into a heart of flesh.
As happens in our world today, the situation of the people of Israel, described by Isaiah, was appalling: they hardened their hearts and walked away from God: “Why, O Lord, do you make us stray from your ways and harden our heart, so that we do not fear you?” (Is. 63:17). The great risk of today is to have a hard heart, closed to God and his ways, stiff-necked before the needs of our brothers and sisters. The great risk is to fall asleep, to become numb, without perceiving the coming of God, becoming incapable of seeing the beginning of a new life, the source of living water, who visits us. We are called to be attentive: to people in their suffering and silence; to their words and questions; to their tenderness and beauty, pregnant of God’s presence.
Time of Advent, time of hope, time of re-birth. The Lord comes again today in new forms and surprising ways, re-creating our lives and the world, making them a simple manger where life can be born. As Pope Benedict puts it: “the eternal word became small – small enough to fit into a manger. He became a child, so that the word could be grasped by us” (Verbum Domini 12).
We ask the Lord to touch us with his gentle hands and lead us closer to him: “Lead, kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom, / Lead thou me on; / The night is dark, and I am far from home,/ Lead thou me on”(Cardinal Henri Newman).