Advent is a casualty of the secularisation of our society. For many people its arrival seems to have been marked by the urge to worship Mammon; at the garage this morning, paying for the petrol took longer than usual, apparently because so many people were using their debit and credit cards for ‘cyber Monday’. Already the invitations for Christmas parties are here, and the general thrust of the season seems to be towards excess and self-gratification; that may not, of course, be much more than an intensification of business as normal. So how do we retrieve Advent?
In the Church tradition there is about it something of the penitential. It is not, as Lent is, a memorial to a period in the wilderness, but rather one in which we wait with baited breath for the feast of the Nativity, and if we have already eaten our fill before than arrives, then the feast itself becomes nothing more than an occasion for avarice and gluttony; again, business as usual for our society here in the West.
This, it seems to me, gives us one clue to how we might proceed: eschewing, as far as we can, a concentration on these things, and instead, finding a bit more time for God. Conscious as I am that despite the wish to, I give Him less time than I should, I am also conscious of the reasons for that, and the fact they will not go away. So my task is to make the time, to find some points in the day when I can say a prayer, or spend longer when I pray the Rosary, or to read something more edifying than the newspapers. Small things, but even the effort of making them is good for me.
I am mindful of that passage from Matthew 8:5-11 used in the Mass where we say we are not worthy that Jesus should enter under our roof, but if he will only say the word, ‘my soul shall be healed’. It is a remind to us that Christ is the physician for what ails us, and that what ails us is a sickness of the spirit. We shall not find healing in the acquisition of material goods, nor in the things of this world; we shall find them in Christ alone. The Centurion showed a faith Christ had not found in Israel, and perhaps a faith not found too often anywhere.
We are, in this Advent season, journeying to Bethlehem, and as we do so, let us bear in mind that although the people of Israel would not have thought so, Christ came not simply to save them, but to save us all – Gentiles too. As we journey, we can bear in mind the three Wise Men who also travelled from far lands. They did not know what lay ahead of them, but they had faith they would find the Christ child; can we do any less?