‘We are an Advent people,’ Abbot Steele Hartmann of Tarrawarra Abbey said on Wednesday 6 December to a gathering of staff from the Archdiocese of Melbourne. ‘Advent should be a time of waiting, of longing, of hoping,’ he said, but often we move ‘quite quickly’ to the Christmas story before wrestling with the themes of the season’s opening weeks.

‘Advent is not about the birth of Jesus. Advent, as the focus of its first couple of weeks tells us, is about the second coming of Christ,’ he explained.

This season is about looking forward to that time St Paul spoke about in his epistle to the Romans, when he said that ‘creation is waiting with eager longing for the revealing of the children [or ‘sons’] of God’ (Romans 8:19).

But what does it mean to be a ‘son’ of God? ‘I think it’s better to approach it as a technical term rather than a term for a male offspring,’ he said. In the period in which Jesus lived, ‘a son was expected to do his father’s will. That’s what a son was … The doing of the father’s will is what defined a son more so than matters of paternity.’

This comes through several of Jesus’ parables, Abbot Hartmann said, including the Parable of the Two Sons, in which Jesus explicitly contrasts one son, who does the will of his father, with another, who doesn’t (Matthew 21:28–32).

When we look ahead to the final judgment, we look ahead to that time when it will be revealed who the ‘sons of God are and hope to be counted among them.

This waiting is not passive, however. ‘If waiting patiently for us to truly be children of God means passivity, then nothing will happen. Our dream of sonship will only be a daydream.’

‘We have a choice, and in the choice we make, we will show ourselves to be the son or not. God has adopted us as his sons, but it is up to us to show that we are his sons.’

Advent, as the focus of its first couple of weeks tells us, is about the second coming of Christ.

Part of the mystery of the Christian life, however, is that in Christ ‘God has already counted us among his children.’ We must now ‘behave as sons or daughters should,’ he said. ‘We have to cooperate with the grace of sonship that is offered to us.’

How do we do this? How do we do the Father’s will in this life so as to be ‘revealed’ as a child of God at the final judgment? Abbot Hartmann focused his reflections on two of Jesus’ parables: the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25–37) and the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats (Matthew 25:31–46). In these, we see how Christ wants us to act—with compassion and attention to those who are poor and vulnerable, the ‘lepers’ and the excluded; to those among us who need us, whoever they are.

‘The Christ is the poor person who lies in our path,’ he said. ‘The Christ is the one who tends the poor person in our midst.’

2023 12 06 Advent reflection morning for CAM staff CAM 8 min
Abbot Steele Hartmann delivering his Advent reflection

In our time, when the problems of the world all seem ‘global’ and beyond our control, it is easy to fall into disillusionment and despair, he observed, wondering what we can do in the face of such challenging issues. We are also confronted by the times we repeatedly ‘fall flat on our face’ and do not live up to our calling as children of God. In this, we continue to echo the words of St Paul: ‘I do not understand my own behaviour; I do not do what I want to do, but I do the thing I hate’ (Romans 7:15).

But we should take great hope from the Parable of the Prodigal Son, he said, who acknowledged his failings and returned home to his father (Luke 15:11–32).

‘All that is needed is that we keep getting up again and turning back to our Father, trying to be the worthy son, the worthy daughter. For that, we shall find our Father falling upon us in a loving embrace.’

Although reflecting on the final judgment and second coming of Christ can be a challenging thing to do, Abbot Hartmann encouraged everyone to see our life in Christ as a ‘whole of life project’. We need not face it with fear if we are striving to live as children of God should and always returning to the Father when we fail.

All that is needed is that we keep getting up again.

‘Advent calls us to renew our efforts to be God’s children, to be his friends, to reach out to our brother and sister in need, that we may go all together into the kingdom,’ he said. ‘This is a whole of life project. Our whole life should be Advent. We are an Advent people.’

‘Advent is a time for us to keep turning to those things which show us to be God’s children, that we might enter into the kingdom.’