28th November, 2021

First Sunday of Advent, Year C

After reading the Gospel for the Solemnity of Christ the King, which we celebrated a week ago, I thought that no other passage in the Bible could be more frightening than that particular passage. Yesterday, however when I briefly looked at the Gospel for today – that is for the first Sunday of Advent – I changed my mind very quickly. Now it seems to me that today’s Word of God may be even more difficult to listen to and explain, especially the first part where Jesus spoke to his apostles about signs in the sun, moon and stars, about nations in agony and many others terrifying things. I am pretty sure that at that particular moment Jesus didn’t want to arouse any fear in His Apostles, and all the more he doesn’t want to frighten us who listen to his words at the very beginning of Advent. On the contrary he says to all of us: When these things begin to take place, stand erect, hold your heads high, because your liberation is near at hand.

As we know Advent is a very special and important time of preparation for Christmas, but we need to remember that Advent also prepares us for the second coming of Jesus in his glory. We do not know when these things will happen – as we heard a week ago and we are reminded of it again today – but each of us should watch and be ready for this moment. Jesus says to us in a very profound way: Stay awake, praying at all times for the strength to survive all that is going to happen, and to stand with confidence before the Son of Man.

Someone might ask, how is it possible to pray at all times without neglecting our families and all our daily responsibilities and commitments we have. After all, we live in a busy world, and we usually complain that we don’t have enough time for many basic things, sometimes even for our family and friends. But if we look carefully at this text, we will see that Jesus doesn’t want us to pray all the time, non-stop – because it would be too difficult not only for a layperson or a priest, but even for a monk living in a monastery. No, but instead of saying: pray all the time, Jesus says to us: pray at all times for the strength to survive all that is going to happen. What exactly does this encouragement mean? It means: pray in good times and bad times, when you experience joys and sadness, fears and anxieties, when you laugh and also when you cry for some reason. Maybe sometimes we do not realize it, but apart from our daily prayers such as: reading the Bible, The Rosary, Holy Mass, The Angelus, also our hard work, our commitment and our dedication to the family, to the parish community, to the country, can be our prayer, a very valuable and precious prayer. And especially if we do all these things out of love for others, then God – as he promised – will provide us with the strength that is needed to survive all that is going to happen.

I was wondering what else I can tell you about Advent at the very beginning of this precious time of waiting and preparing for the Lord’s coming, and at some point, I thought to myself that I could share with you one of my childhood memories. I believe that still in many churches in my country priests celebrate “Advent Masses at dawn” in honour of Our Lady. Usually, they are held very early in the morning when it is still dark outside, sometimes at 7 or even at 6 am. Many people gather in their parish churches bringing with them lanterns, because when Mass begins all the lights in the church are turned off, it is absolutely dark there. All lights are only turned back on when the whole community begins to sing or simply say the hymn: Glory to God in the highest. And it is actually the only Mass during Advent where people are allowed to sing this joyful hymn. Moreover, this is the only Mass in Advent where priests can use – instead of purple – white liturgical vestments. After the end of Mass there is another very interesting and sweet custom which would be very hard to forget. When the Mass is finished, all the children and their parents are invited to breakfast with hot chocolate, which is prepared for them in the parish hall and then after a long breakfast in a joyful atmosphere, children go to their schools carrying their lanterns, which they are very proud of. This is one of my first recollections when I remember Advent, my childhood and my preparations for Christmas with my family and friends. And although it was not easy to get up at 5 or 6 in the morning when it was cold or snowing outside, the atmosphere of this special Advent Mass at dawn gave us much more satisfaction and joy than sleeping longer in a warm bed.

Finally, I would like to remind you and myself of the words of Saint Paul from the first Letter to the Thessalonians: Brothers, we urge you and appeal to you to make more and more progress in the kind of life that you are meant to live: the life that God wants! During this Advent that we are beginning today, each of us can take another step forward – towards God, into the depth of our faith and prayer life, towards our loved ones but also towards our neighbours. And when we manage to do this, then we will hold our heads high and we will go out to meet Jesus Christ in the mystery of Christmas but also in the mystery of His second coming.

Fr Gregory