James Hanvey on Advent: Waiting for the light

A reflective stillness lies at the centre of Advent. Placed between Christ’s first and second coming, the rhythms of the liturgy measure our time. Quietly, but insistently, it awakens our hope and invites us to wait upon the Lord who will fulfil his promise. It assures us that we will not wait in vain. Advent calls us to renew and deepen our trust, while the world finds trust difficult, and “hope” is dismissed as naive. Now, in this season of Advent we come to know that this time, the time in which we live, whatever the time, is the time of our redemption.

The liturgy of Advent is not like the seasonal background music in the shops, designed to put us in the right mood for spending. It is the song of faith, which expresses the reality from which we live our lives, and that faith gives us a particular way of seeing the world, of living in it and for it. Without pretension, we might describe it as a prophetic perspective. The Jewish theologian Abraham Heschel calls it the “exegesis of existence from a divine perspective”. I think this is a good description of what we mean by discerning the “signs of the times”. Christ is the centre of our existence; he is the one who establishes our perspective. For this reason, the Christian way of seeing things is necessarily distinctive. To those who do not share this perspective, it will appear strange. Hence the problem and the puzzle that Christianity poses for a secular culture. The puzzle is not caused by a Christ-centred perspective alone, however. Where a post-Christian society has forgotten how to read the substance of Christian faith, there can be a genuine ignorance but also a cultivated misunderstanding among those who presume to know Christianity already. The old cliché about familiarity breeding contempt can be disconcertingly true. We live at a moment when our society is marked by deep struggles about its identity, values and purpose. The Church wants humanity to succeed, not fail. That is why it is passionately engaged in this struggle. It does not have any ambition to take away the legitimate independence of the secular but it does have a vision of what that might be.

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Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, * Religion News & Commentary, Advent, Church Year / Liturgical Seasons, Other Churches, Roman Catholic