Attempts to make sense of life are universal. The poet T. S. Elliot expressed the wish to have carved on his gravestone about life: “I’ve had the experience, but I’ve missed the meaning”.
Today’s liturgy constitutes a vision of optimism and hope that can sing of the Lord’s wonders and recognise His providence at work in everything that happens.
In the Second Reading, St Paul prays for our growth in goodness, in perfect goodness, a virtue based on abundant understanding and a wealth of experience, a life lived out with a clear conscience and blameless conduct.
Now, that is the sort of image that can strike a couple of different nerves at the same time. It can be a bit discouraging, but it can also be a heartening thing. It means that we never reach a point at which we can say this is all I am ever going to be. I think we human beings take very gladly, even gratefully, to the notion that we do not always have to be only what we have been.
Choose to change. That is the heart of it. Our Advent call to wait for the coming of Christ and the perfection that that will bring into our lives is no passive thing. In the Baptist’s words, “prepare the way of the Lord ….” Get the world ready for perfection. The fact is that Christ never forces himself or his goodness on anyone or anything. He will remake in his perfect image only as much of the world as is presented to him. He will recreate only those who ask to be.
It always seems to me that the real heart of our Advent call to prepare the way of the Lord is seen in the difference between the stance of simply waiting for Christ to come with trumpets blaring and take the world back from us, the difference between that and the stance of we ourselves actively gathering the world together, gathering it together, as St Paul says, in abundant understanding and a wealth of experience and giving it back to Christ. I like that phrase ‘give the world back’. There are so many challenges in our own lives that we could meet so much more peacefully if we could bring ourselves to see them as opportunities for the giving of gifts rather than as struggles for ownership.
Think of all the demands that are made on each one of us. Our time, our talents, our wealth, our pride, our self-image. Think of how much time we spend agonising over whether or not this or that demand is a reasonable one. Is it fair? Am I being taken advantage of? Am I giving or doing more than my share, more than the next person? How much more peacefully, and productively we could meet those demands if we could bring ourselves to realise how foolish such concerns really are, how out of place they are in an exchange of gifts. That is how we prepare for perfection, that is how we mark the world, as much of it as we can touch, with goodness, with generosity, with love.
Because it really is true. In a profoundly Christian sense, the only things we ever really own are the things we give away. Fr Andrew