We start out once again on the familiar journey of Advent. Consumer culture likes to remind us that the lead up to Christmas is ‘the season to spend’. Yet the greater hope for this season of preparation is not in how we spend money but in how we spend our time.
Today’s gospel recalls Daniel’s Old Testament vision of the coming of ‘the Son of Man’. Luke’s 1st century audience, while striving to remain faithful to the way of Jesus, were also reckoning with internal division, the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem and persecution under Roman rule. Who could be trusted? What would be the future for their fellowship? In our own time, people in all sorts of communities also struggle in a myriad ways. Both visible and invisible to us, many live with “hearts weighed down”, burdened by unsteady employment, poor health or broken relationships, and overwhelmed by fear of the future.
In anticipation of sudden change and uncertain times, the Gospel emphasises praying for strength and courage to remain faithful and alert. People of faith are called to live in the world, ready to stand up with heads raised, not hidden away like doomsday ‘preppers’ in survival bunkers. The Gospel encourages believers to pray for the strength to face difficulty, and “to stand before the Son of Man”—trusting we are loved.
The first Advent candle is lit today. Lighting a candle is a simple yet powerfully symbolic way to enter prayer and to remain alert. An open flame cannot be left unattended for long. Our attention to the flame can focus our hearts and minds, opening us to the deep well of love waiting in the mystery of God. In prayer and stillness, we may begin to experience a sense of acceptance and trust at what is ahead of us, beyond the horizon of our knowing. As we watch the candle, we might reflect that in places near and far, other candles may be burning brightly—and so we are drawn imaginatively into the reality of being in prayerful communion with others. Amidst the “worries of this life” exist familiar ways of becoming alert to the joys and struggles of our own and others’ lives, and to wait awhile with God.