‘Where is the Life we have lost in living?’ asks the Chorus in T S Eliot’s The Rock. The Jesus of Matthew’s gospel is implicitly asking the same question as Eliot’s chorus. He is making much the same observation as Henry David Thoreau, ‘Most [people] lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.’ As we attend to the ‘ordinary’, everyday things such as eating and drinking and working in the fields or wherever, we are invited to find life in the living and to sing the songs that are in us. We are to be agents of our own future rather than unthinking participants in the inevitable round of daily activities that have preoccupied humans from time immemorial.
Matthew’s Jesus invites us to contemplate the basileia or kingdom verities even as we attend to the demands of the present. He tells us to be ‘awake’, to be ‘ready’ all the time, not because death nor the end of the world are around the corner, but because we need to recognise the multiple ‘advents’ or arrivals of the Christ, the Human One, calling us beyond self-absorption to life.
Dreams and visions have always been the precursors to effective and life-giving change. We need the grace to see visions and to dream dreams that make for justice and peace and that permit us to walk more freely in the light of our God. We seek the grace to ‘see’ God’s word as did the prophet Isaiah in the first reading (Isa 2:1-5), to put our energy into creating life-generating systems that enable us to move forward in the paths of gospel compassion and love. We spend much of our time looking back. That has its place, since our history informs our present and helps us in shaping our future, though all the while we know with Auden that ‘[t]he past is a foreign country: they do things differently there’. Advent invites us to look forward rather than back and to dream gospel-inspired dreams that will enable creative change in our own lives and in the life of our planet.