Today the Church opens a new liturgical calendar with the four-week season of Advent. Advent comes from the Latin word, adventus, which means coming or arrival. Since it culminates with the celebration of the Nativity of Christ, the season of Advent is generally understood as a preparation for Christmas.
Today’s three readings however speak of three comings of Christ. In the first reading, taken from the Prophet Jeremiah, God announces to the House of Israel and Judah that he will send a Savior from the shoot of David. This promise is fulfilled many years later with the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. We can refer to this historical event as the first coming of Christ.
In the gospel, Jesus foretells his coming at the end of time in a language full of apocalyptic descriptions and portents which evoke awe and fear. “People will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.” We can refer to this revelation as the second coming of Christ.
Meanwhile, we find ourselves between the first and the second comings in a mode of indefinite waiting, for “no one knows the day or the hour.” (Mt 24:36) Hence, in the second reading, St. Paul exhorts the Christians “to increase and abound in love… to be blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones.” This in-between time is where we live and welcome Christ into our lives in the here and now. We can call this phase the third coming of Christ, which happens every day since Christ does come to us in many ways.
While we fondly remember the first coming of Christ on Christmas day and eagerly look forward to his final/second coming (which we may not even live to see), what is important is that we recognize Christ and welcome him in his daily visitation. The readings offer us some valuable and practical suggestions on how to live these days of advent.
“Stand erect and raise your heads.”
Despite its apocalyptic language, advent is not meant to scare us but to announce the coming of deliverance. In the Book of Daniel, the Son of Man comes in a cloud following the successive tyranny of four kings (depicted as four ferocious beasts). In the gospel, the Son of Man appears in the midst of international wars and inter-galactic malfunctioning. In both instances, the Son of Man comes to bring hope and salvation. Advent is a time to rejoice.
“Be vigilant at all times, and pray.”
While advent carries a message of comfort and reassurance, it also gives an admonition to remain attentive since we do not know exactly when Christ comes. Thus, we need to have a sharp spiritual sense. Anything that dulls the spirit (carousing and drunkenness) or causes distraction (anxieties of daily life) must be avoided. This is made possible if we take time to pause and allow ourselves to be guided by the deepest yearnings of our heart. Advent is a time to pray.
“Guide me in your truth.”
Last Sunday, we pointed out that the falling of the stars and the darkening of the sun and moon were not meant to be literally understood. The heavenly bodies were the ancients’ instrument for navigation. They were the fixed points in the sky to which man turned to find his direction in life. When the gospel describes the whole universe as turning upside down with coming of the Son of Man, it means that Jesus is now the new point of reference, “the Way, the Truth and the Life.” (Jn 13:14) Thus, the responsorial psalm ultimately refers to Jesus, “Your ways, O Lord, make known to me; teach me your paths, guide me in your truth and teach me”
The dissolution of the entire universe preceding the Son of Man who comes to usher in a new world also signifies that for a new order to be established, the old order must pass away. In like manner, for Christ to come into our life, we need to rid ourselves of our old ways. Advent is a time to change and be converted.*