Incola ego sum, et apud te peregrinus. “Oh God, I am a stranger, and with you a wanderer.” This verse is from the end of Psalm 39, which was not our Psalm today, but it is an excellent way to begin the season of Advent.
Advent is about the coming of Christ. As we have been reading in the Scriptures for the past few weeks, he will come at the end of time in justice, when he will separate the sheep from the goats. He will gather unto himself those who love him, and those who do not love him he will cast into Gehenna. So Advent is a season to prepare ourselves for that moment at the end of time when Jesus comes in judgment.
Advent is also a season that prepares us for the coming of Christ in human form at Christmas. He came in mercy as a baby to share our human experience. Like us in every way except sin, he came as the Son of Man to take upon himself all our sins and redeem us. He, who is without sin, gave up his life so that we might die to sin.
Christ came in mercy at Christmas, and we have the Advent season to prepare for that coming. Christ will come in justice at the end of time, and we have the Advent season to prepare for that coming. Both mercy and justice are rooted in love; Christ came in love at the Nativity to redeem his flock, and he will come in love at the end of time to claim his flock.
And, as St. Luke records in the reading today, a critical aspect of remaining as one of Jesus’ flock is vigilance. Our eyes must be open if we are to navigate this world and be ready for the next. Today is the day the Lord has given us. We are not promised tomorrow.
If we are vigilant, we will be ready to receive Jesus when he comes in judgment. While others will react as described in the Gospel reading, “in dismay, perplexed, and frightened,” we will remember the promise from Jeremiah today: “In those days Judah shall be safe and Jerusalem shall dwell secure; this is what they shall call her: ‘The LORD our justice.’” Having kept ourselves as strangers to this world and wanderers in it, we will be able to “stand erect and raise our heads because our redemption is at hand.”
Vigilance comes from the word, “vigil.” A vigil is a time when we stay awake when it would be customary to sleep. Vigils are common in the Church calendar, as we sometimes start a great feast with evening prayer the night before. To choose to be vigilant means to choose to do some things that very few others are doing. A vigil is an anticipation of the event that is just before us. Our hearts and minds are already set on the coming event. The Advent season is a four-week vigil, anticipating the coming of Christ.
Remember the story of the wise and foolish virgins waiting with their oil lamps for the approaching bridegroom. A basic difference between the wise and the foolish was vigilance. The wise virgins kept alert for his coming, and they prepared themselves that he might be delayed. The foolish virgins assumed everything would happen according to their preferences, and they had no oil when the bridegroom was delayed.
We call ourselves Christians, and that means we belong to his kingdom rather than to an earthly kingdom. It means we must be vigilant: expecting his arrival any day now but able to remain faithful even if his coming is long delayed. We must be in this world but not of this world. We use our talents in the world to glorify God rather than for the vainglory of the world, because we never forget those talents are gifts from him and were never ours to possess.
Our God who is Love is coming to us because of his love for us. He comes in mercy at Christmas; he is God with Us, emmanuel. A baby born in poverty in a manger, a simple craftsman trained as a carpenter by his father; this is nobody to be frightened of. Our creator makes himself approachable in the second person of the Trinity. Jesus slept and worked and ate, he was tired and hungry and thirsty, just like us. He understands what we are going through, and he reaches out to us in mercy and love. Advent is a time to prepare ourselves to respond to that merciful touch of love. The world thinks we are already in the Christmas season, and the season is spent shopping and eating and drinking. As strangers in the world, we know Advent is to prepare us for Jesus coming as a baby, coming so that thirty years later he can make the supreme act of mercy and die on the Cross for our sins.
Our God who is Love will come for us because of his love for us. He will come at the General Judgment, Christ the King, the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Our creator, who made us in his image and likeness, comes to close his creation and gather into his arms all those who welcomed his embrace. It is only just that those who lived for the glory of God will get to be with God forever, and those who lived for the glory of this world will not have to be forever with a God they rejected while they lived.
We cannot keep choosing God in a world that has abandoned him if we do not seek always to be strangers to this world and wanderers in it. It is vigilance to be alert when the world is drowsy, but that vigilance will strengthen us so we can keep turning to the one who made us in love and made us for love. He came in mercy, and he showers us with his grace so we can be strong and faithful to his loving justice.
May this Advent be for all of us a time to prepare to receive God’s mercy and his justice. May we be vigilant strangers in this world, always alert to the coming of Christ.