Today is the first Sunday of Advent, the season that begins our liturgical year. It is a time that we remember the stories of our faith that announce God’s promise of salvation and anticipate the fulfillment of that promise in the birth of Jesus. So, it may seem strange that the texts we read on this day are not so much about beginnings, but about endings. They point our attention to the return of Christ when the fullness of God’s reign will establish justice, peace, and wholeness for all of creation. The thematic warnings to “keep awake” and “be prepared” from the last several weeks carry over into today’s readings, bidding us to live in hopeful anticipation as we await the day that God will bring to fruition all that God started in and through Jesus Christ.
The readings from the Sundays leading up to Advent helped us to understand that this period of waiting for the return of Christ was not meant to be idle pastime. Rather, this was a time in which discipleship meant an active practice of hope, embodied in vigilance and faithfulness, and in the way we imitate the pattern of life given us in Christ. We practice hope by living into a reality not fully realized, living our lives as signs of restoration, healing, and justice in a broken world. The vision of Christ’s return fuels our practice of hope by shaping our pattern of life according to the reign of God in the midst of our present realities. It forces us to take seriously the disparities between our experience of this world and the vision of what Christ’s return will bring with it. The practice of hope names those disparities not in the throes of despair but in joyful anticipation that divine judgment will ultimately strip us and the world of all evil, malice, violence, and greed, allowing all of creation to rest in the peace of God.
This doesn’t mean that we simply shrug our shoulders at the pain and suffering in our world and leave God to sort it all out at some undefined point in the future. The charge to “keep awake” implicates us to embody the hope we profess, to seek after justice, to love our neighbors, to care for the poor and the destitute. Hope is something we live in the day-to-day world; it is an action that bears witness to the inbreaking of God’s reign.
The repetition of the warning to “keep awake” on this first Sunday of Advent invites us into this same practice of hope as we prepare to receive the Incarnate Christ. We are called to push aside those things that distract us from living into the hope God has given us, to dim the blinding lights that keep us from seeing the vision of God’s reign, to turn down the noises that keep us from hearing the announcement of Christ’s coming. We are called into a still darkness that offers us a reflection of our soul, a reflection that exposes those parts of ourselves and our lives that do not express the hope we have been given. As we examine our lives, we pray that God give us the grace to “cast away the works of darkness,” to rid ourselves of all the things that distort the mystery of the divine life that God offers us, and to “put on the armor of light,” to equip ourselves with the light of God’s countenance.
In the still darkness of Advent, God reminds us of who and Whose we are. In the still darkness of Advent, God invites us to engage in the practices of our faith that tune our eyes and ears and hearts to the soft rhythm of divine joy. In the still darkness of Advent, God invites us to discover the quiet anticipation of a world made new by divine love.
This has been an extremely difficult year. So many of us are feeling fatigued. The call to “keep awake” when we’re so tired and exhausted seems a bit out of place in these particular circumstances. And yet, God desires to restore our souls, to fill us with the light of divine countenance so that we might live in the abundance of God. Advent beckons to us to find our center in God, in the One who calls us into being, who forms us as a potter forms the clay.
And so I wonder, dear friends, what are the distractions that you need to push aside today as we enter this season? What practice is God inviting you into to fill your deep yearning for God’s presence? How are you cultivating the hope that you have been given?
This season is not a season of idle waiting, but of active hope sustained and made tangible by the practices of prayer, worship, and service.
“Dear People of God: The season of Advent provides a time in which we who, because of notorious distractions and fear of death have strayed, are called out of that bright chaos and into a still night. I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Advent: by self examination, prayer, and worship, now in the time of this mortal life. May God give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, which blur and distort the mysteries of death and new life, and grant us the armor of light, that we may wait in service and devotion, making way to receive the Christ child again. Amen.”
 Planning for Rites and Rituals: Year B 2020-2021 (NY: Church Publishing, 2020), 14.