We are now in the season of Advent. It is a time when we look forward to Christmas, and all that that entails: buying presents, writing Christmas cards, taking the children to see Santa Claus. But what does the word Advent mean? I like looking up a dictionary when I am not sure of a meaning or simply to see the origin of the word. Anyone who knows Latin or Italian or even Spanish or French will know where the word Advent comes from. In my ‘Collins, Complete and Unabridged’ version, it says: Advent: ‘an arrival or coming, especially one which is awaited. It originates from the 12th century Latin adventus, from advenire, that is: ‘ad’ meaning ‘to’, and ‘venire’ ‘to come.’ Having satisfied myself with this explanation my curiosity got the better of me and I began to look down the page and see other words connected with the word ‘advent.’ There was ‘advent calendar’, which I won’t explain, but the next word was ‘Adventist.’ This I found interesting,because though I have heard of them I never really knew what they believed in. This is what my dictionary says: ‘Adventist: a member of any of the Christian groups, such as the Seventh-Day Adventists that hold that the second coming of Christ is imminent.’ Interesting, so now I knew. I expect you all knew what they believed in: the imminent second coming.
It is easy to make jokes about such people but I shall refrain, and I do so for a good reason, because the Gospel today tells us to prepare for the second coming. Christ tells us to ‘stay awake’ and to ‘stand ready because the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.’ Ok this isn’t to say that the Second Coming is imminent, like the Seventh-Day Adventists, but it does warn us about the Second Coming, that we should be ready for it. The question is: how do we get ready for it.
The prophet Isaiah gives us a clue in the first reading. Like Martin Luther King, the prophet Isaiah also had a dream, only a much longer time ago. In that dream he sees a time in the future when people will not go to war any more; only, Isaiah puts it more poetically: ‘many peoples will hammer their swords into ploughshares, their spears into sickles. Nation will not lift sword against nation, there will be no more training for war.’ What a lovely dream to have of the future. Sadly, today, there is still lots of training for war. Good young men and women are volunteering all the time to train for war; they go off to Iraq or Afghanistan and some of them don’t come back, at least not alive. We are all too familiar with scenes on our TV sets of dead soldiers in coffins being mourned by their families.
Is Isaiah’s dream then what we call a pipe dream; in other words, pure nonsense? Or is it a real prophesy from God as to how things will turn out sometime in the future? This is what we Christians believe. We also believe that we are to prepare for that future today; we are to do what we can now to see that ‘there will be no more training for war.’ War is not inevitable, it can be avoided. And though the Church accepts that there can be a just war, such wars are rare. Most of the wars we see today are due to our sinfulness; often fought in third world, or developing countries, because of our greed and desire to possess what belongs to someone else.
As long as the human heart continues to live in the dark then wars will continue. St. Paul, in the second reading, tells the Christians in Rome to arm themselves and appear in the light. ‘Let us live decently’ he says ‘as people do in the daytime.’ This is how to end wars by living in the light; in other words, by trying to live good not selfish, greedy lives. Those who live selfish, greedy lives, are those who perpetuate wars. War is the triumph of sin over grace, of selfishness over kindness and, to use Paul’s word’s, of darkness over light. Those who try to live in the light will be opposed to the darkness of sin and of war.
Someone once said that, ‘war begins in the human heart.’ If you control the heart then you control the person. The Gospel message today, this first Sunday of Advent, is to prepare the way for the Lord; and we do that most effectively by changing the human heart, beginning with our own. Today, Christ challenges us to face up to the darkness in our lives: to our selfishness, greed and pride; don’t let your sins control your hearts: easy to say but not so easy to do. However, have you noticed how easy it is to sin? But have you noticed how difficult it is to change your sinful ways? There is a battle raging in our hearts. St. Paul tells us, ‘Let your armour be the Lord Jesus Christ.’
And so, as we begin Advent we do not believe, like the Adventists, that the end of the world is imminent. However, we do believe that we are to do what we can to make this world a better place, to free it from all wars, so often caused by sin in our hearts. And we do this by trying to make our own hearts better, to be generous and kind and thoughtful to others. We know that on our own we can’t do this, but we have Christ at our side to help us, and that is why we say at Advent, ‘Come Lord Jesus, do not delay!’