Keeping Vigil – An Advent Reflection
The glory of the Lord will shine on you
Like the sun he will rise over you
God’s glory will appear in your midst
The prophet Isaiah
To keep vigil means to wait and watch. When we keep vigil we gather our scattered energies and we become present in watchful attention. Silence and prayer are the marks of a vigil, as are candles. The light symbolizes hope and promise. In our Church Year we are about to enter this time of waiting and watching. Next week is the first week of the season of Advent – the four weeks leading to Christmas. There is something absolutely beautiful and utterly profound about Advent: words and images of light, hope, promise, waiting and longing, such as those of Isaiah, above. There is gentleness, beauty and tenderness in the images and music of Advent. It really is a holy season when everything, the liturgy, Scripture, all speak of a Reality both beyond and within what is known, a Reality that will break upon us like the coming of dawn, as Zechariah says in his beautiful prayer in Luke’s Gospel. Everything points towards the coming of the One whose story we know will touch us. But we are not there yet. We prepare our hearts and minds. There is the anticipation of the Feast to come. The readings we hear during these weeks are all dripping with these rich images. The beautiful words of promise from the Hebrew prophet Isaiah, speak of the abundance of life, peace, richness and joy:
Let the wilderness and the dry lands exult;
Let the wasteland rejoice and bloom;
Let it bring forth flowers like the jonquil;
Let it rejoice and sing for joy.
Strengthen all weary hands,
Steady all trembling knees and say to all faint hearts,
Courage, do not be afraid
Look, your God is coming.
There is something about Advent which turns our gaze ‘upwards’ and outwards, into a context greater than we are and in which we find ourselves. We are invited into a real sense of the glory and mystery of the universe we live in. It is a time to ponder and treasure. The prayer of the Church at this time too is filled with this:
Lord, our God, Your glory breaks on the world.
We are filled with the new light
by the coming of your Word among us.
Lord, make us turn to you.
Let us see your face and we shall be renewed.
Open our hearts to receive this life.
Increase our vision with the rising of dawn
that our lives may be filled with his glory and peace.
Make us a people of this light.
Make us faithful to your Word
that we may bring your life to the waiting world.
(From the Liturgy of the Hours)
Advent also brings us closer to the end of our secular year and here in Australia it marks the ending of the school year too, so on many levels there is that invitation to slow down and change focus. But while Advent comes at the end of our secular and academic year, it marks the beginning of the new Church Year. The Church Year ends with the Solemnity of Christ the King, which we celebrated last Sunday, and it begins again with the first Sunday of Advent, this Sunday. There is something really beautiful and deeply revelatory in these two important markers in the Church Year. Both of these, the Feast of Christ the King and Advent, have much to say to us about the reality of our universe, viewed through religious eyes.
Ms Kerry McCullough
Spirituality and Liturgy Coordinator