What is Advent for?
How to guard the door of the Kingdom and the door of the heart
“Stay awake, because you do not know when the master of the house is coming:
evening, midnight, cockcrow, dawn.”Mk 13:35
When will the Lord come in glory?
Will He come in the evening, as He did to the disciples on the road to Emmaus, disguised as a stranger in need of food and shelter? Will He come at midnight, as when He descended to the dead? Will He come at cockcrow, as He did to St Peter, hidden in the dark moment of betrayal and sin? Will he come at dawn, as He did to Mary Magdalene, hidden by our tears as we mourn His absence?
Will He make Himself known in the breaking of bread? In the face of a needy stranger? In the power that broke the gates of Hell? In the light that bared Peter’s soul? In the familiar voice that calls us by name?
We know neither the when nor the how. We cannot foretell the kairos, the fateful return of our King in glory. We know only that it will be sudden, unexpected. That the Lord will come in glory, in transfiguring light which leaves nothing unexposed, no dark corner in which to hide.
The return of the King will be sudden, but this does not mean that we cannot prepare. The Master has left His household with instructions, and each of His servants with our own proper work. That household is the Church, its watchmen the bishops and priests who are to guard the narrow door. We have inherited custody of the keys from the Apostles, and with those keys, the door to the Kingdom can be opened and shut; for the authority these servants have received from the Lord while He journeys is the wondrous power to forgive sin, the greatest of miracles. To repent is to knock upon that door in humility and plead for entry. Even in this life, while we stand knocking, we know the power of that miracle through the healing medicine of the Blessed Sacrament and the gift of tears.
But first, we must enter a smaller chamber, via a smaller door. That chamber is your own heart, and you keep its door. While the priests keep watch on the outer door, we must all keep watch on our own inner doors, ever vigilant. We must notice when unwanted guests pick the lock and steal in: when, say, social media posts, or targeted advertisements, or even just the news prompt us to gluttony, lust, envy or anger. You have felt it, surely: your guard let down, something seemingly innocent catches your eye, and the seed in your heart is sown. Dark limbs quickly grow and entangle you from within, and minutes, hours, even days later you cannot shake whatever it is that has possessed your mind.
We all have our demons. We need to know their tricks and forestall them. They too are preparing for the sudden Advent of the Lord, and they mean to get here sooner. We need to be alert now that modern technology has given them siege weapons and means of espionage, secret routes to the heart such as they have never enjoyed before. So stand at the gate in armour of light, have the sword of truth ready at hand, and slam the door shut as soon as you see the enemy, before he slithers in and makes himself at home. Never let the Name of Lord be far from your lips, for it is the sharpest blade and stoutest shield: you might keep the words of the Jesus prayer, Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, resounding in your heart, and so pray constantly, as the Apostle commended.
Guard the door of your heart always, and knock often on the door of a church where you find healing and shelter. Even there, alas, we have to be vigilant. The Church is the serpent’s favourite place to find cracks and enter. He likes nothing better than to corrupt what should be holy and turn shepherds into wolves. But the corruption is remarkable only because we know that it should not be there. Even the Church’s detractors know what it should be, for all they persist in defining it by its errors. All the more reason to safeguard the door. And above all, do not fear. God allows the demons their work only to strengthen our resistance against them. Nor do we fight alone. We have one another, a strong company, and we have the saints and angels to guide and guard us. Trust in their strength, for our own will surely fail: and their strength is none other than Christ’s, of whose body they and we are parts.
Whether priests or people, we are only stewards to the One who is to come, who needs no key, for He is the Key of David, before whom the gates will rise, both the outer and the inner. This world and everything in it, even our own lives, do not belong to us, but to Him, and our place is only to tend them and nurture them ready for His return. Have we done this? Have we prepared? Are we ready now, to receive Him in bread and wine? Are we ready now, to serve Him in the stranger? Are we ready now, to be set free from the temptations to which we succumb? Are we ready now, for our hearts to be exposed by His searching light? Are we ready now, to hear Him call us by name, and to reply without shame: here I am, Lord, your loyal servant and your lover?
The answer for many of, perhaps even most, is probably “no.” And that is fine. There is still time: we do not know how much, but there is still time. Time for fasting, self-examination, confession and penance. That, not the early rash of Christmas trees and lights, is what Advent is for. The Lord, to use a hackneyed phrase, does indeed “meet us where we are,” but he does not leave us where we are. There is one who meets us where we are and leaves us there to bathe in our own squalour, but he is not our friend. The one who calls us not servants, but friends, is the one who lifts us up and longs for our cooperation with His grace. The other one calls us slaves, and food.
But we today welcome the Advent of the King who gives Himself to us as food. May He enter into our hearts today, through the sacrament of the altar, may He illuminate that inner chamber, and may His strength bar the door shut against infiltrators and enemies.
Maranatha: Lord, come. Amen.