I don’t run. I like swimming; happy to go for a walk, or get on a bike for a ride. But I don’t run. My knees would be very unhappy with me if I did. This wasn’t always the case. When I was young, I wasn’t too bad at marathons – no speed about me, but I could steadily jog along for quite a distance. It might be something about the Comensoli physiology – my brother does ‘tour de France’ length bike rides, and my niece runs those crazy 100km ultra marathons.
Advent, this lovely season that draws us forward in hope towards the Lord’s nativity, is full of running imagery, or at least imagery of striving ahead, of moving forward, of going on. Advent is the goal-oriented season of grace. But it is particular in its orientation and imagery, beginning from God but inviting us in.
Unlike the ancient Greek gods who lived their lives separated from earthly creatures, our God – the God of the Incarnation – is always going out to meet his creation. The one true creator God cannot but go out. Why? Because our God is love; and love is always about going out to the beloved. So, we heard in our first reading today, “Oh, that you [Lord] would tear the heavens open and come down!” God is always on the move towards us; He is the God who is running to us.
This is nowhere more obvious than in God’s running from his divinity into our humanity. He is the Word who became flesh; the incarnational God; he is Jesus of Nazareth, born for us to run with us, and to lead us to the goal of our earthy marathon, our redemption. It is why we are to “stay awake!”, as Jesus encourages us to do in today’s Gospel. God’s running to us is our opportunity for hope.
We know and believe that Jesus came forth from heaven so that we might share in his divinity, but none of us knows the manner in which he will run into our individual lives. We look to his Nativity, so that we can learn something of how we might strive forward, but Christ will always personally find us unexpectedly, when we least expect it, in moments of surprise. Indeed, our Lord is the God of surprises, so much so that he even surprised us by becoming one of us.
Yet, in all of the Lord’s running towards us, there is also our running to Him and with Him. The marathon is ours to take up as well, for love yearns for a response in hope. Our God of love is calling out to us. This is our goal to run towards. As St Paul put it, “You will not be without any of the gifts of the Spirit while you are waiting for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed; and he will keep you steady.”
Jesus runs towards us in his Incarnation, precisely so that we might run out to meet him. Advent is our marathon, our ‘going out’ to meet Him who comes to be with us. This is no forced march we are made to take; it is an invitation to be a part of finding the goal of our humanity, the goal we were created to fulfil.
So, this Advent, this new beginning from the year of pandemic, might we make our own the words of the prayer with which we began this season, confident that Jesus – who is our life, our love, and our hope – is already running out to meet us:
“Grant [to] your faithful, almighty God, the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ.”