At the beginning of my homily on the First Sunday of Advent, I wished everybody “Happy New Year!” It is the day the Christian year begins. Many of us ask ourselves at the end of the year, “what sort of year has this been?” I certainly ask myself that question as the Church year draws to its close. Every year, the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe (Christ the King) is a wake-up call for me. It makes me ask if I have made any spiritual progress in the past year. If we ask ourselves that question, it is natural to ask others: “What progress could I make in the year that is beginning?” “How can I come closer to God?” Luckily, Advent offers us a time of reflection at a very busy time of the year. But we need to decide how to get the most out of a season which is really a time of hope, and quiet joy. It is like the time an expectant mother has, as she waits for the child within her to be born. She has 9 months, of course!
“Advent” means “arrival”. Somebody important is coming! We are given this season to prepare for His arrival. I suggest that there are three ways Jesus Christ comes into your life and mine. The most obvious coming of Christ is the one we celebrate on Christmas Day. We enjoy remembering the birth of Jesus in a stable in Bethlehem, not far from Jerusalem. Hymns like “Silent Night” (and the German original “Stille Nacht”) can really touch our hearts. Saint Francis gave us the tradition of the Christmas crib. He started with a gathering for Midnight Mass in a cave in a place called Greccio in Italy, and since then people have re-enacted the scene, artists have painted it and craftsmen (and even families at home) have built models of it. Many blessings come from contemplating the humble circumstances of the birth of Jesus. Instinctively, families gather and celebrate the Incarnation of Jesus, even though many have forgotten why we do it – and a growing number, sadly, have never really known why.
The Church has always split Advent in two. The second part is about the birth of Jesus, but the first part, which continues until 16th December, is about being prepared for the coming of Jesus Christ as the Messiah (in Hebrew “Messiah” means “anointed”, which is exactly what “Christ” means). The readings and prayers at Mass these days are all about the second coming of Christ. Are you ready to meet Him? I don’t feel ready! But this is a season when we listen to the prophecies about the Messiah, mainly in the Book of the prophet Isaiah. Many of you know Handel’s oratorio “The Messiah”, which Christian and secular choirs alike sing at this time of year. If you come across a performance of it, even on the radio or television, on a CD or in some other form, it is a lovely way to focus – with the Church – on the second coming of Christ. It is not difficult to find the words on the internet and follow them as you listen.
A third way Jesus Christ comes into our lives is in Holy Communion. Not long ago, the COVID-19 pandemic made it impossible for huge numbers of people all over the world to go to Mass and receive Communion. They are so pleased to be able to return to church and receive Our Lord in Holy Communion again. But something priests all over the world are saying is that their regular congregations are much smaller now. Being forced to stay away from Mass for so long, and the fear some people still have of catching one virus or another at public gatherings, means that many Catholics have decided never to attend Mass again. We were lucky that Mariukirkjan never closed. But it is a puzzle that so many here ignore the fact that we are invited to attend Mass every week. When we do attend and receive Our Lord in Holy Communion, it enriches our life with a unique experience of closeness to God.
A recent flight from Edinburgh to the Faroe Islands was delayed by over 30 minutes because – as the pilot explained to his passengers – he had to load over 4 tons of luggage. It was people’s Christmas shopping! I mention this because it is easy for all of us to be overtaken by the materialistic side of Christmas, at least to some extent. Preparing for Christmas has become very difficult for parents, especially if their children punish them with descriptions of what amazing gifts their friends have been promised.
Here is some good advice from Bishop Erik Varden of Trondheim. In a recent interview, he suggests: “Be a bit of an anarchist in relation to the consumer expectations of the season we are entering. We can decide for ourselves whether to work against it and say no, and not allow ourselves to be manipulated by consumer hysteria. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t get together and enjoy ourselves and have a good time” (Saint Olav’s church newsletter, 26th November 2022).
Have a good Advent!
Download plan for daily Mass Readings here: Advent 22 readings (pdf)