Mother Maria-Michael has posted a reflection - longer than the ones she normally posts - for the beginning of Advent. I am happy to commend it to you, as I was enriched through reading it this morning. The post has the title: Advent - Longing for Christ.
More by accident than by deliberate intention, I went to Mass yesterday evening - and so caught the beginning of Advent at its very beginning, so to speak. Father's homily reflected on the meaning of the word Advent - a coming, that of Christ, in the historical past and in the future that we await - and on how we might live this time of waiting for the coming of Christ.
I was most struck, though, by Father's asking this question: why is Advent four weeks long? And why is the fourth week not really a week, but a few days, depending on exactly what day of the week turns out to be 25th December? Father suggested that the answer to the first of these questions was related to a cosmological vision (no, he didn't use that wording in his homily, but it was what he was referring to) in which the length of time from the creation to the coming of Jesus in human flesh was understood to be 4 000 years. I didn't quite catch whether this was a Bible based cosmology or a patristic cosmology, so I can't give you the footnote. Each of the four weeks of Advent is then seen as representing 1 000 years between creation and the Incarnation. Father suggested that the "short" fourth week acts as a reminder to us that we do not know the exact hour of the second coming of Christ; it reminds us of the need to "stay awake", and prompts us to use the season of Advent to renew our wakefulness before the Lord.
Clearly, knowing today what science has been able to discover about the history of the universe, we do not believe in the 4 000 years. But the idea that the time of Advent, that is, the duration of the season, has a representative meaning; that the length of Advent is a sign in the Liturgical sense; this, I think is still a useful idea. Advent is an extended season in the Liturgy; it is not just a vigil the evening before the feast.
Particularly for those of us who have an education and formation strongly influenced by contemporary science, seeing Advent as "representative time" helps to give a meaning to time itself. If Advent represents the time between the creation and the coming of Christ in Bethlehem, then time is being given a meaning in relation to the mystery of the Incarnation seen as the destiny of the physical creation. And if Advent represents the time between the Ascension and the second coming of Christ in his glory - the time in which we are at present living - then it is giving meaning to time in relation to eternity, in relation to our looking forward to eternal life with the Trinity and all the saints in heaven, when all things will be one in Christ.