Saint Benedict never mentions Advent in his Rule for Monks, at least not directly. Nonetheless, the monastic tradition incorporates the spirit of this holy season by training monastics to stay vigilant for the coming of the Lord, for “we know neither the day nor the hour.” (Mt 25:13).
St. Benedict takes for granted that monks are to rise from sleep before the sun comes up, gather in church, and pray the Divine Office of Vigils (the first service of each day). In this way, monks are “trained” in the spiritual discipline of vigilance while waiting for the coming of the Lord. The Rule does not suggest that the monastic office of Vigils “ought” to take place, but specifies “when,” at what time of the night. Thus, the Rule witnesses to a monastic discipline that predates St. Benedict himself (480-548).
St. Benedict teaches that “the life of a monk ought to be a continuous Lent” (RB 49.1). But he might also have said, I think, that every day should have the character of Advent – since every day in this earthly life entails awaiting the coming of the Lord.
Advent is more than merely a preparation for Christmas. Advent is about “hastening toward your heavenly home.” Advent mindfulness is about “being dressed for service and keeping your lamps burning,” ready for action, ready to open the door at once when the Master knocks (cf. Luke 12:35-36).
Christ came into our world 2,000 years ago in a gentle, quiet, and unobtrusive way; born to a peasant couple from Nazareth, for whom there was no room in the inn at Bethlehem. Mary had to give birth to her firstborn in a stable and use a feeding trough as a cradle.
But the adult Jesus promised to return to our world in glory, in a sudden and decisive way. Advent trains us to remain vigilant for his “second coming” – which will be “like a thief” (1 Thes. 5:2; Rev. 16:15). His return will not be quiet and unobtrusive. In 2 Peter 3:10 we read, “the heavens will disappear with a roar, the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and its works will be laid bare.” His second coming will be a final and conclusive end to the “human experiment” on earth.
The images are rather frightening, but for those who put their hope in the Lord rather than in material things, it is truly Good News. For when Christ comes again, the fullness of all we hope for – the glorious freedom of the children of God – will be definitively revealed and fully realized. The prophet Isaiah describes how the violence that comes from instinctual mechanisms of self-preservation will be swept aside – “the wolf and the lamb will graze together” - and “on that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples. The nations will seek Him, and His place of rest will be glorious. On that day the Lord will extend His hand a second time to recover the remnant of His people.” (Is 11:10-11).
This is the message of Advent.