Each Advent we place ourselves in the position of people who are waiting for the coming of the Lord. When you think of it, it is a rather strange thing to do. After all, Christ has been among us in human flesh. God has been revealed in and through him. Moreover, Christ is with us still, not least in the sacraments and in the hearts of all believers. So why this season of waiting?
First of all, waiting helps us to prepare. Imaging preparing for a much-loved visitor from overseas. You would plan special food, you might organise excursions, you would spring-clean the accommodation. In all of these things you would also be preparing psychologically. So, too, with Advent, as we await Christ we prepare. At the very least, it teaches us not to take Christ for granted. It urges us to make our lives and our homes places where Christ will be welcome.
Second, we recall the repeated words of Jesus in today’s gospel, Mark 13.33-37: ‘Stay awake.’ It is people who are consciously waiting for Jesus who are more likely to be able to recognise him when he comes. I am sure that Christ is among us, indeed is with us, many times in our lives when we do not realise it. He is there to strengthen us in times of difficulty, to challenge us in moments of compromise, to inspire us when we are insipid. Advent asks us to prepare for Christ who will run throughout our day and throughout our lives.
Finally, we remember in Advent that one day the Christ we expect will come and take us to be with him. Here and now, we are constrained by the limits of our earthly existence. There are things we cannot see, puzzles we cannot understand, questions we cannot answer. No wonder that in our first reading today we hear Isaiah cry out asking that God might tear the heavens open and come down (64.1). Like us, he puzzled over the pain of the world and wondered where God was. But one day we shall be called into eternity. This will be the crossing of a threshold where we shall wait no longer but receive the mercy of Christ and the joy of his presence, when our searching will finally be at an end. As St Paul wrote: 'Now we see in a mirror dimly, but then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand, even as I have been fully understood. So faith, hope, love, abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love' (1 Cor. 13.12-13). Each Advent, we prepare to meet divine love in human form, and by our waiting, we ask afresh that this divine guest may change our lives.