‘Year passes after year silently;Christ's coming is ever nearer than it was.O that, as He comes nearer earth,we may approach nearer heaven!’(Bl. John H. Newman)
The new Christian year (also called Church or Liturgical year) begins on the First Sunday of Advent; which is the Sunday closest or on the Feast of Saint Andrew the Apostle. From that date roughly four weeks of Advent prepare us for the celebrations of Christmas, and to begin afresh the yearly rehearsal of the story of salvation in the Lord Jesus. During this time we make various preparations to recall the first coming of Christ to the world as a child at Bethlehem, but as we do this our readings from Scripture lead to look forward with renewed hope to the second coming of the Lord as our judge on the last day. These are the two focal points for Advent; a looking back in thankfulness and celebration to what happened over 2000 years ago in a lowly stable, and a looking forward in hope to the ‘new heaven and a new earth’ God promises (Revelation/Apocalypse 21:1).
Then how are we to live this season of Advent, and how do keep focused on both of these two events – one of which is yet to happen? We do this by going forward ourselves to meet the Lord, by ‘approaching nearer to heaven’, filled with that joy which should be the hallmark of all Christian people – a deep joy that comes from knowing Christ, not from the pleasure of passing moments of fun; a joy that makes us retrace each year key points in the lives of the Jesus and the saints; a joy that compels us to live for him; a contagious joy.
Like every penitential season Advent could easily assume dreary tones and morbid fascinations with the last coming of Christ as the judge of all – flowers have gone from church, purple, the colour of penitence, is the colour of the season, and the singing of the Gloria has been muted. But, far from being dreary the psalm appointed for this Sunday says,
‘I rejoiced when I heard them say,“Let us go to the House of the Lord”’ Psalm 122 (121):1
‘I rejoiced’. This psalm was sung by Jewish pilgrims travelling on dusty and dangerous roads to worship the Lord in the temple at Jerusalem. Through the hardships of the journey, through the uncertainties of the road, they kept their spirits high because they knew that in approaching Jerusalem, however slowly, or precariously, they were going forward to meet the Lord. So these words are given to us to use by the Church today in order to really set the scene for everyone as we begin a new liturgical year together. We rejoice because we go forward to meet the Lord. First, we go in spirit to meet the Lord in the stable of Bethlehem, and there we find him with joy and amazement ever-new. Then, once the Christmas festivities are over we carry on within our hearts the sense of Advent-expectation as we move forward in our lives to approach the Lord Jesus in one-another, in Scripture, and (most of all) in the Eucharist – until the final day when he’ll reveal himself to us face-to-face.
During this new Christian year, we may face many practical challenges as a congregation, such as the restoration and renewal of this House of the Lord and how to respond to an ever growing need for our presence among the people of our town. As individuals too we may worry about the many uncertainties of our lives, but throughout all these things we move forward with joy, because we know that in rehearsing the story of salvation throughout the Christian year we are constantly moving forward, we are constantly approaching heaven to meet the Lord.