Reflection for the Vigil of the First Sunday of Advent, 2012

December 1, 2012

by Judith Sutera, OSB

Readings: Romans 13:8-14, Luke 21:25-28, 34-36

They say, "It's darkest just before dawn." This cycle of Advent readings begins with a very dark and foreboding image of the coming of the Lord, preceded by great turmoil and fearful disruptions of nature. We can look around, as many doomsday prophets certainly do, and wonder if this is not indeed the end of days, but almost every generation before us has wondered the same thing. Some choose to react to the threat with panic, or attempt to ward off the threat with some action on their part, or become fatalistic and despairing. 

Since this is the beginning of a season of anticipation that is to culminate in an event of great joy, however, the intended message must be that the darkness will soon give way to light, and we need to be ready and waiting to move beyond the chaos and despair. For our vigil this evening in preparation for the Sunday Eucharist, the reading from Romans acts as a companion piece. It speaks of throwing off the darkness and looking forward to the coming of the Lord not with fear and trembling but with confident anticipation. 

The real message as we enter this sacred season of preparation is that the light is on the horizon. Thus we must be ready to shake off our drowsiness and half-hearted consciousness and be ready and alert. Now I am no great fan of dawn. I have rarely voluntarily witnessed a sunrise, and the sudden jolt of the alarm clock is, well, alarming. In our humanness, as Benedict also points out, we fall into grogginess and half-hearted Christianity. We have to "open our eyes to the light." So we need to see Advent as a wake-up call that gives us time to get ready and get going before our appointment with Jesus. 

It is always much easier to rise more gradually, on our own schedule, gently nudged by the sun as it warms and brightens our faces. Whether it is the harsh encounter with difficult realities or the gentle caress of God's love, the light is always moving towards us. It is up to us to lay aside the deeds of darkness and prepare for the coming light.

Most of us don't have to worry much about murder, theft and adultery, but the great commandment to love one another is a more immediate challenge. In becoming drowsy to it, we do in fact murder and steal the joy of others, their hopes and self-esteem. We are unfaithful to our vocation and covet what is of the darker sides of our personality. As the dawn pushes back the darkness, we must push back that which is trying to encroach on our better spirits, and against the evil that is always trying to push back against our efforts for peace and justice in the world. As the morning light brightens our faces, we must let the light of God's love brighten and energize us. As the dawn shows us things that we could only see in vague form before, if at all, we must let that God-light illumine our space so that we can recognize more clearly the sacred light on every other person and thing. 

This past week's icon workshop reminded me of how color and light are used in creating an icon. In contrast with western style painting, the icon begins with a dark featureless figure that gradually becomes lighter as brighter shades are added. The beautiful details of piercing eyes, delicately folded garments, bright golden decorations are lovingly placed on top of that plain, very dark brown silhouette. The layers reach up towards lightness and achieve a glow that is the reflection of the divine. 

When we strive to let Christ enter us through our prayers and deeds this Advent, darkness will gradually be replaced by light. We will be adorned with the details that show God's love for us and our love for God. We will become the light that pushes back darkness wherever we go, and the dawn will shine upon us, and through us, and in us, until we enter into the great dawn of the coming of Jesus.