‘Why do you let us wander, O Lord, from your ways, and harden our hearts so that we fear you not’? This is how Advent opens with the first reading from Isaiah (63:16b-17, 19b; 64:2-7). Left to our selves we wander from the ways of God, our hearts become hardened almost unnoticed because we are living without much awareness of what is happening inside, within the heart. Once we become aware and notice more, we may feel moved to cry out, ‘Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down’…or simply, ‘Oh that you would come to change my heart’.
Starry Night by Vincent Van GoghThe reading continues with this plea: ‘Would that you might meet us doing right, that we were mindful of you in our ways!’ And then this finale which has all the elements of a song of longing – ‘You O Lord are our father’: meaning, you are our Source, you are our Creator: we are the clay, which is a humble posture of acknowledgement and awareness of who can shape us anew – we are the clay and you, our Creator, the potter. Finally the Isaiah reading concludes with this existential reminder: ‘We are all the work of your hands’.
So here dear sisters we have our entrance into Advent…does more even need to be said? Jean Daniélou wrote: “To talk about Advent implies that someone or something is coming or will come. The liturgical time of Advent is a waiting for divine action, a waiting for God’s gesture toward us” (Prayer, p.32). And how are we to wait? The gospel tells us to be awake, watchful. I wonder if the beginning of Advent awakens a little spark within us. Have you noticed a small, quiet stirring, a movement of anticipation that we each need to stay close to? Already just the word ‘Advent’ stirs our hope, our longing. This stirring already knows before we even do (!) that more of God is coming into our lives…God will not disappoint! But let us remember it begins small: in ways that we can easily miss, so we are to attend with the ‘ear of the heart’, listen for those silent movements of the Spirit…we are being over-shadowed by the One who seeks us, who seeks to grace us with new life, with His life.
Pope Francis, in his 2014 homily for the First Sunday of Advent, offers insight into how we are to wait and be watchful. He says that this eschatological gospel is not trying to frighten us but is “‘to open our horizons’ to further dimensions, giving meaning even to everyday occurrences. This perspective is also an invitation to ‘sobriety, to not be dominated by the things of this world’ but rather to keep them in their proper place”. Is this not why the beginning of Advent calls us to turn inward, to be vigilant and watchful? This new moment of God’s manifestation is for each one of us. It is so important for us to receive this gift of new life, for how are we to incarnate Christ’s life if we do not first become receptive vessels, like Mary, of this newness wanting to birth forth?
We all need change; any true change in our lives must have its root within otherwise it lacks the solid rock on which our house is to be built. This is what this Divine birth can and will bring to each one of us. Pope Francis says in the same homily: “‘We are called to enlarge the horizons of our hearts, to be surprised by the life that is presented each day with its newness. In order to do this we need to learn to not depend on our own securities, our own established plans.’” To be bearers of the Divine gift means we can only receive this grace if our posture is open and attentive, open that is to changing our ways, even a small movement of change makes us ready bearers of this new life that is to be ‘given to us and for us’. During this short Advent season, let us ponder: in what way or ways do the boundaries of my heart need to be enlarged? What small change do I need to be ready to receive God’s new gesture of grace? Just the honest intention of praying for change brings the Coming One close, very close indeed.
A prayer: Oh you the Potter, you who shape and form us into a vessel worthy and humble enough to bear your life, come enlarge my heart, soften its hard edges, prepare it for your new ‘gesture’ of love. Grant me a living faith that knows you will not disappoint me in my desire. Amen.
Sr Kathy DeVico, Abbess