The season of Advent is above all a time of watching and waiting for the coming of the kingdom of God in power. It shares with Lent a certain spirit of restraint, preparation and penitence, but it is one shot through with conﬁdent joy as Christmas approaches.
A Reading from a Sermon of Bernard of Clairvaux
We have come to understand a threefold coming of the Lord. The third coming lies between the other two. Two of the comings are clearly visible, but the third is not. In the ﬁrst coming the Lord was seen on earth, dwelling among us; and as he himself testiﬁed, they saw him and hated him. In his ﬁnal coming ‘all ﬂesh shall see the salvation of our God,’ and ‘they will look on him whom they pierced.’ The intermediate coming is hidden, in which only his chosen recognise his presence within themselves and their souls are saved. In his ﬁrst coming our Lord came in our ﬂesh and in our weakness; in the intermediate coming he comes in spirit and in power; in his ﬁnal coming, he will be seen in glory and majesty.
This intermediate coming is like a road on which we travel from his ﬁrst coming to his last. In the ﬁrst, Christ was our redemption; in the last, he will appear as our life; in his intermediate coming, he is our comfort and our rest.
Lest anyone should think that what we are saying about this intermediate coming is our own fancy, listen to what our Lord himself says in the gospel: ‘If any love me, they will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.’ There is also another passage in Scripture which reads: ‘Those who fear the Lord will do good.’ But something more is said about those who love God, and that is that they will keep God’s word. And where are his words to be kept if not in our heart? As the prophet says: ‘I have kept your words in my heart lest I sin against you.’
Think of the word of God in the way you think of your food. When bread is kept in a bin, a thief can steal it, or a mouse can ﬁnd its way in and gnaw it, and eventually, of course, it goes mouldy. Once you have eaten your bread, you have nothing to fear from thieves, mice or mould! In the same way, treasure the word of God, for those who keep it are blessed. Feed on it, digest it, allow its goodness to pass into your body so that your affections and whole way of behaviour is nourished and transformed. Do not forget to eat your bread and your heart will not wither. Fill your soul with God’s richness and strength.
If you keep the word of God in this way, without doubt it will keep you also. The Son with the Father will come to you. The great prophet who will restore Jerusalem will come to you and make all things new. The effect of his coming will be that just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly, so we shall also hear the likeness of the heavenly. Just as the old Adam used to possess our being and control us, so now let Christ, the second Adam, who created us and redeemed us, take possession of us whole and entire.
Bernard of Clairvaux, Sermon 5 ‘On Advent’ 1-3
We are grateful to Canon Neil Thompson, erstwhile Precentor at Rochester Cathedral, for allowing us to publish his latest poem on these pages.