Ad te Levavi animam meam; to you I have lifted up my soul. Thus the words of the introit for the first Sunday of the new liturgical year set the Advent scene. To lift up my soul differs essentially from preparing materially for Christmas. We used to describe prayer as a raising of the mind and heart – the essence of me – to God, so Advent must above all be characterised by a renewed focus on prayer; not just more prayer but a prayer which conforms me to the spirit of the season.
By beginning the year with Advent, the Church asks us to lift our eyes and, as it were, stare into the darkness and strain to glimpse a Christ we have not seen yet. The Christ of Bethlehem and Calvary now sits at the right hand of the Father. He came once in humility; he comes still in humility, his presence veiled (as well as revealed) in the signs we call sacraments.
But this is all to prepare for a different kind of coming, a return in unimaginable majesty and glory, when the distance between the way God is and man is will no longer be tempered by God veiling his form. It is this distance that will appal, unless I have prepared for it.
To lift up my soul is to cease to be self-reliant and to exchange this attitude for that of a suppliant, dependent on another. I need to lift my soul to the Lord because only if He takes it to Himself does it stand any chance of escaping the crisis which looms when created time comes to an end. To lift my soul to the Lord is an expression of conversion of heart, of a real desire to learn to use more wisely the things of earth so as to orient me to the things of heaven.
To lift up my soul means to recognise that Jesus has gone before, opening new horizons to the very human nature he came down to share. It must follow him in its heart’s desire, or it will remain earthbound to wither and die here, where it has made its home. The passing of another year, with its joys and sorrows, reminds me that there is a renewed urgency about the process of discerning wherein is my true and lasting joy. This is how I enter into the grace of the Advent season: to look for the “more than ever” of my relationship with God, to strain the eyes of faith to see the God who is coming still, but is yet to be all in all in me.
Advent invites me to focus on the overwhelming strength and urgency of the desire of God for my salvation. You know what hour it is, says St Paul to the Romans, it is time to awake from sleep. Had he been born American and in another age, he might have phrased it as “It’s time to wake up and smell the coffee of salvation”, because that is what he means. It is time to wake from the sleep of complacency; the heavy sleep that follows over-indulgence; the sleep that is my way of not having to feel my feelings about God; the sleep that deafens me to the sound of the Saviour who stands at the door and knocks.
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