22nd December, 2022
‘What did you go out into the wilderness to see?’ – Gospel of St Matthew, 11.7
Advent will soon be over and Christmas will begin. As the Gloria returns to Mass, Christians across the globe will gather to celebrate the birth of our Saviour.
At the same time, the change of the season brings to an end this series of blogs.
We conclude with the death of St Anthony of Egypt. Aged 105 and having spent most of his life in the seclusion of the mountains, he left his monastery for one last time, heading to spend eternity with God.
Before his death, St Anthony spoke to his fellow monks, calling them to prepare “zealously” in hope of the return of Our Lord. Warning of “the treachery of the demons”, he nonetheless reassures them to “Fear them not, but rather ever breathe Christ, and trust Him.”
St Anthony spoke from harsh experience. During the past few weeks, these blogs have delved into the spiritual torment which the monk endured at the hands of the Devil. In this 15th century Italian painting, St Anthony is shown being tempted by the promise of Gold. But trusting in God, St Anthony was delivered from the pit of sin.
As Christmas begins and passes, it might be easy to forget the lessons learned from Advent. But through the changing seasons, the message shown in the Holy Scriptures and by the lives of the Saints remains the same. The looming sense of preparation that defines Advent has value throughout our life.
Owing to this is the fact that we are in dire need of preparation. The threat of sin is one which we all face, a point graphically illustrated by St Anthony during the last few weeks. As St John puts it candidly in his First Epistle, “if we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves.”
Yet we are not without hope. At Christmas, we celebrate the Nativity of the Incarnate Word and the hope which he brought into the world. This hope remains with us in the Church, which as the bride of Christ, prepares sinners to spend eternity with God. Her sacraments – and the Eucharist in particular – provide us with real hope that we might be reconciled to God.
Therefore, the message of Advent is not a seasonal fixture that comes and goes like the latest TikTok trend. Our life forms its own extended Advent, a sense of constant preparation. This might seem a tall order. The world – and indeed our own lives – can feel irretrievably broken. But as one popular hymn reminds us, Christ offers us real hope of everlasting peace:
O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appear.
Wishing you all a warm and Holy Christmas.