Advent is beginning to wind to a close and even liturgically the focus has now turned toward the Christmas Feast. However, still in Advent, we look for the Lord to come. We still wait on the Lord, wait for him to come in glory.
We have all been well schooled in the in the understanding that the word “Advent” means “coming.” This is fine and accurate but there is one danger to avoid in our current notion of Advent, and that is that we are not merely passive as we look for the Lord or wait for him to come. It is not just that the Lord is coming to us but we are also journeying to him. In fact we are running to meet him.
There is an image of the Prodigal Son that comes to mind. His Father saw him and ran toward him, but he too was hastening to his Father with contrition and hope. Yes, in Advent we do look for the Lord’s coming. But the Lord also looks for us as we come to him by faith. We, like the prodigal son, consider our need for salvation, and with contrition, (did you get to confession this advent?), hasten to meet our Lord, whom we know by faith is coming to us.
This notion of our running to meet God has not been well articulated in the Liturgies of the English speaking world since about 1970. Since 1970 we have been using a translation that is really more of a paraphrase. Much has been left out of the current translation, including this notion of us running to the Lord in the Advent prayers. Happily it looks like a much more accurate translation will begin to be used next Advent. So let’s look at the how the new translation will set forth these prayers and how the theme of our running to meet God, even as he is coming to us, is set forth:
- Grant your faithful, we pray, almighty God, the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ with righteous deeds at his coming, so that, gathered at his right hand, they may be worthy to possess the heavenly kingdom. (First Sunday of Advent)
- Almighty and merciful God, may no earthly undertaking hinder those who set out in haste to meet your Son, but may our learning of heavenly wisdom gain us admittance to his company. (Second Sunday of Advent)
- Stir up your mighty power, O Lord. and come to our help with a mighty strength, so that what our sins impede, the grace of your mercy may hasten. (Thur of the First Week of Advent).
- Grant that your people, we pray , almighty God, may be ever watchful for the coming of your Only Begotten Son, that, as the author of our salvation himself has taught us, we may hasten, alert with lighted lamps, to meet him when he comes. (Friday of the Second Week of Advent)
- May the reception of your sacrament strengthen us O Lord, so that we may go out to meet our savior, with worthy deeds when he comes, and merit the rewards of the blessed. (post communion, Dec 22)
Thus, we are not counselled to “wait on the Lord” in a merely passive sense as though we were sitting still and waiting for a bus to arrive. Rather we are counselled to “wait on the Lord” in an active sense, much as when we speak of a waiter in a restaurant waiting on tables. Such a form of waiting is a very active form of waiting. Alert and aware, the waiter or waitress carefully observes the needs of others around them and serves their brothers and sisters. The good ones strive to avoid distraction and do their job of serving well and with swiftness.
Notice too how the prayers indicate what it means to “run.” We do not run aimlessly or in frantic circles. Rather running to the Lord means:
- Being engaged in righteous deeds (holiness) by God’s grace.
- Not being hindered by worldly preoccupations and distractions.
- Learning heavenly wisdom.
- Receiving the Lord’s mercy unto the forgiveness of our sins.
- Being alert and ready for the Lord’s coming, the lamp of our soul trimmed (humble and purged of sin) and burning (alive with fiery love).
- Strengthened by the Eucharist which is our food for the journey.
St. Paul speaks of running too:
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I discipline my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize (1 Cor 9:24-27).
Are you running to meet the Lord? Or are you just waiting? Advent involves looking and waiting, but it also means running, running to meet the Lord who is coming to us. Run!