The theme we are going to explore for Advent is: Receiving the Word. Advent marks our liturgical celebration of the coming of the Word of God in the Incarnation.
The Eternal Word comes into our flesh in the stable in Bethlehem, bringing to our world a new and radiant light in which the truth about ourselves becomes clear.
Archbishop Vincent Nichols
Archbishop Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster and President of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, is the inspiration behind the hugely popular Walk with Me prayer and scripture journey, through the seasons of Advent, Lent and Easter.
During the season of Advent we print and distribute over 200,000 copies of Walk with Me booklets and calendars. We print and distribute 30,000 copies of Bible Alive. We are a family of prayer, a family of believers devoted to the word of God. Archbishop Vincent’s chosen theme for this year is Receiving the Word, and his teaching on this important theme speaks to both Walk with Me and Bible Alive readers. He links this receiving of the Word we are called to with our reception of the new Missal.
We are a family of prayer, a family of believers devoted to the word of GodThe coming of Jesus into our world must be met by our receiving. Sometimes we are not so good at receiving. We can be reluctant to accept something new, something that asks us to change our habits or ways. We resist the invitation to step away from the familiar and take up new patterns of living, thinking and behaving.
That may well have been your experience in receiving the new translation of the Missal which we have begun to use at Mass.
Changing familiar responses can be difficult and, at times, irritating. Listening to new words, instead of the familiar ones, can be demanding. We might wonder if it is all really necessary.
Yet these, too, are words that we are to receive. They are words given to us by the Church to express our faith in a fuller form than previously. They come to us as a gift of enriching our life of liturgical prayer.
Our journey of Advent can help us in our acceptance of this gift. I hope that is so.
Advent is also the time for the coming of the Word of God. It is therefore also the time for receiving the Word.
The Advent traditions of the Church teach us to be attentive to those comings of the Word: in the stable in Bethlehem, in the hearts of all who believe and in the fullness of time when he shall come again.
During Advent we ponder on some of what we must do if we are to receive that Word, fruitfully, within us.
This receiving of the Word is like a new birth: the Word comes to take on the flesh of our humanity, to bring to birth a new life within our humanity, to open a new hope and new love for our humanity. And this birth has to take place within each one of us who seek to be his disciples.
As St Augustine said: ‘What does it avail me if this birth is always happening if it does not happen in me? That it should happen in me is what matters’.
And the great 14th Century mystic, Meister Eckhart added: ‘Therefore we shall speak of this birth, of how it may take place in us and be consummated in the virtuous soul.’
Here, in its simple form, is our hope: that our union with the Lord is such that his birth takes place within us and that, somehow, we give him our actions, our flesh, so that his saving presence may be continued in our world.
In all of this we seek to follow Mary for, after all, she is the first of the disciples. What she does we may strive to do, too. Or rather, with her we strive to say: ‘Let it be done to me according to your Word.’ (Luke 1:38).
During these weeks, then, we shall journey step by step to prepare ourselves so that the birth of Christ may take place within us through our receiving of the Word.
This is not a once-and-for-all occurrence. Rather it has to grow afresh each day within our hearts as we waken with a fresh consciousness.
Of course some of the practices and habits of our way of life dispose us to that growing presence of the Word. But others work against it.
We must look hard at those obstacles and see how we can learn to put them aside so as to leave greater space within us for the coming of the Word.
Good habits and destructive habits are to be found side by side within us.
When we look at them with clear eyes then we have the opportunity, in the strength of God’s love or grace, to shift their balance, so that those which prepare us for the gift of the fullness of life are given more emphasis, and those which lead us down the cul-de-sac of self-centredness are put to one side.
What a great gift of grace! What a sight of constant beauty that would be! What a joy mingled with great sorrow that would bring!What might happen within us inasmuch as the Word is received? Perhaps when we receive that Word, no matter how fleetingly, we might see and act as God sees and acts. Such true vision would be like standing within the heart of God and looking out – seeing the world, and each other, from within the heart of God.
What a great gift of grace! What a sight of constant beauty that would be! What a joy mingled with great sorrow that would bring!
This is our pathway during Advent. May the Lord lead us step by step, faltering as we are, to that place so that a new pattern of action in our lives may flow forth from the birth within each of us of the Eternal Word.
May the Lord bless us all this Advent. May his word be born afresh in each one of us, so that his light may shine more brightly in our world today.