Advent missionary disciples

Next Sunday is the First Sunday of Advent, the beginning of a new year of grace. From a personal view of things, this is my favourite season of the liturgical year. At the beginning of the year, we make resolutions. Perhaps it would be a good thing to think about our personal spiritual resolutions in the coming Church’s year. Hopefully, you will have an opportunity to hear or read my pastoral letter for the First Sunday of Advent. It is about the theme of mission. This is my primary pastoral resolution, to work with you all so that we can develop new ways of undertaking mission. Mission is not simply one of the things the Church does, it defines our identity. We are missionary by nature. And as you will hear in the pastoral letter, mission is not just something for the specialised few. Mission is an obligation on the heart of every single Christian. We will all have our own particular role to play in the missionary endeavour of the diocese.

Generally speaking, Advent is fun packed with the many festive activities which accompany the weeks leading up to Christmas. This beautiful season is often crowded out. Advent is a desert season. It is the time for prayerful space and pondering the word of God. It would be a great starting place for our collective thinking about mission if each one of us was able to find some time every day, to sit quiet and reflect upon a moment in Scripture.

To help us make this journey through the Advent desert, we have three wonderful figures in this season; the prophet Isaiah, John the Baptist and Mary, the Mother of the Lord. Each of these witnesses teaches us how to focus our lives on the word of God. The prophet and the Mother show us how we might respond to God when he calls us to mission. When the Lord calls Isaiah in the Temple, he realises he is a sinful man. No matter, the Lord will take care of that. Isiah simply has to become obedient. Much of the liturgical word we will hear during Advent is taken from Isaiah’s school of prophetic insight. He speaks of the desert blossoming and bringing new life. Mary is disturbed when she hears the angel’s greeting. She opens her life to the Father’s will and bears in her womb the promise of God that a Saviour will be born.

Sometimes we may feel very aware of our weakness and shame. God can still use us for mission. Our healing and our sending are his works and not ours. We may feel disturbed by the challenges involved in the task ahead. Mary Our Lady’s witness of humble obedience be an encouragement for us.

John the Baptist’s mission is to point out the Lamb of God to his contemporaries. This is our mission too. We are called to signpost people to Jesus. The Baptist teaches us how we might do this. His lifestyle is simple and uncluttered. Maybe the lockdowns this year have helped us to focus upon what is truly important in our lives, and how we can bear witness to the Kingdom of heaven. And at the end, in the darkness of Herod’s dungeon, John the Baptist must bear a further witness. He sends messengers to Jesus to ask if he is the one who was to come. He who pointed to Jesus as the Lamb of God experiences a dark night of faith.

Over the past few decades, there has been a growing appreciation of how each of us is called to become a missionary disciple. Our Advent witnesses each teach us something about this. They too knew awareness of their weakness, and even confusion and doubt. They also knew what God can do when we are open to doing his will.

Lord of the Advent desert, help me not to become overwhelmed and crushed by my weaknesses. Help me to place my hand in yours and to allow myself to be guided by you. Help me to accept your invitation to me to become co-responsible for the mission you have entrusted us with. Amen.

✠  David J Oakley
Bishop of Northampton