So we come to the beginning of Advent and the readings immediately put us on high alert. The Lord is coming, let us be ready! We are told to be awake. We do not know the hour when the Lord will come, but we must not be caught unaware and unprepared.
Being on high alert for someone to come or for some event to take place is easy for a moment but difficult to sustain for any length of time. We can't keep up the excitement or attention for very long. Not long ago His Holiness the Dalai Lama came to our Dominican priory in Oxford to take part in a symposium on prayer, and the event was to begin with the Dalai Lama joining the brethren when they prayed in the chapel. Not surprisingly security was very tight. And so we had to gather in the chapel well in advance and wait. At first it was great. We were all very excited in anticipation, but time passed and nothing happened. No Dalai Lama. The sniffer dogs came, sniffed and went. Time passed. No Dalai Lama. The excitement began to wane. And when the poor old Dalai Lama finally did come, the brethren were somewhat caught off guard and it took a while to get back to the enthusiasm and joy we had at the beginning.
Being on high alert is difficult to sustain at the best of times. When it comes to being ready for the second coming of Christ it might seem impossible. It has been a very long time. Many people have cried, 'The end is nigh.' But no end has been nigh. But if Advent is a time to look forward to the final coming of Christ, it is also a time to be ready for his more immediate coming. And this is where the constant cultivation of something like being on high alert is important and necessary for us here and now.
The readings for this Sunday do look forward to the coming of the Lord at some point in the future when the world as we know it will come to an end, but their main point is about the present and how we should behave in the present. They tell us to be alert in the here and now, to be awake in the here and now. The coming of the Lord is the active presence of God in our lives here and now as well as in the future. What is required of us to be alert, to be awake, to the light of faith as offered to us here and now.
The gift of this faith is the advent of the Lord in our lives right now. For most of us, most of the time, the problem is that we are not on any kind of alert for the coming of this gift, let alone high alert. We may have faith of a sort, a kind of attachment to the Christian religion and all that it teaches, but this is not the faith that is the light of God present and active in our lives, convincing us of the truth that is God and of the truth of the life he invites us to live for our human flourishing. To have this faith changes all things and it is something that comes to us at certain moments when it suits God to give it to us. It is something we can have and cultivate and sustain, or it is something that can pass us by or diminish and fade away.
We are called on to walk in the light of the Lord, the light that shone when he appeared on earth as a human being born of the Virgin Mary, the light that will fully manifest when he comes again, and we are called to walk in the light of faith in the here and now, our hearts open to the coming of Christ the Bridegroom, open to his graces and gifts, open to the communion of love that he offers us. Let us, then, be awake and alert to this coming during this season of Advent.