We began the holy season of Advent this past Sunday and a new Liturgical Year has begun. The message we will be hearing throughout Advent is this: prepare your hearts, for our God is sending a Savior, Emmanuel, a name which means, God-with-us.
The firm conviction that God comes to us, an important Advent theme, implies on our part an active life of prayer and participation in the liturgy and sacraments of the Church and willing service of one another. Advent calls us once again to this important work, to meet the God who comes to us each day.
In this season we especially ponder birth of Christ in Bethlehem 2000 years ago to save the human race. Advent and our annual Christmas celebrations are meant to enliven our adherence to Christ our Savior as we recount our God becoming one of us in order to save us. We also recount in Advent that God comes at the moment of our death and at the end of time.
We might ask, then, as to which coming of our God is the most important? In fact each and every appearance of our God, past, present and future is an important manifestation of the love God has for us and the desire to save us.
In light of the Scripture readings for the Advent season, we should ask if we are good at reading signs. The people at the time of Jesus expected the appearance of the long-awaited Messiah to be accompanied by extraordinary signs and wonders.
When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, certainly mystery and wonder surrounded the event. Born in poverty, but worshiped by magi from afar, Jesus was of the house of David, subject to Joseph and Mary, yet capable of restoring sight to the blind and life to the dead.
Later Jesus showed himself to be the Suffering Servant foretold by the prophets of old, bearing the sins of all upon the cross, then rising in glory and ascending to be united with the Father and Holy Spirit, Who live and reign for all eternity.
During his public ministry Jesus prophesied that he would return at the end of time to complete his work of restoring all things in himself. “The Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory,” was first mentioned in the Old Testament Book of Daniel. Jesus tells his hearers that when he returns he will establish a universal and eternal Kingdom of peace, righteousness and justice for all.
The Advent season reminds us that as Christ came to earth, died and rose from the dead, so Christ will come again. We are indeed “living in the end times,” which began with the coming of Christ at his birth in Bethlehem, especially recounted by Christians during Advent and Christmastide.
The end times will culminate in the final return of the Messiah on the Day of Judgment. Is it then an event to be feared and dreaded? Not if we view it as the wonderful fulfillment of all that was prophesied long ago to the nations regarding the restoration of “Paradise Lost.” In the coming of Christ, our estrangement from God is reversed, and thus, full participation in divine life is possible for all people. Nothing could be more desired by any of us!
If we are unprepared for the coming of Christ we risk forfeiting eternal life. The gift of life in Christ forever is never forced on us, though, but lovingly offered, with a hope that those who truly desire, even if ever so slightly, truly shall find all that satisfies the restless heart seeking for something beyond itself.
What must we avoid in order to recognize truly the signs that accompany the coming of the Lord? We are to counter such things as indifference, the temptation to give up along the way, to fall asleep spiritually, and just drift through life without fervor or zeal for the things of God.
How easy it is to be distracted by what is of little or no consequence and be weighed down with troubles, without hope or trust in the God who made us to know, love and serve him. Of course God knows our shortcomings and struggles and is eager to bestow grace for us to bear our burdens, even joyfully, in the footsteps of our Lord who has shown us the way we should walk: with faith, hope and love always in our hearts, since we belong wholly to God and can accomplish all things because of that.
But there is one thing that can really block the action of God in our lives: an attitude of resistance or passivity, not caring, doing nothing when we could be up and doing much to seek the face of God, walking in the way of joyful abandonment to Divine Providence.
In this new Advent season, God is ready to give us a fresh vision and the grace we need to lose self and find God. God wants to work in and through us for the greater honor and glory of God. That is why God expects great things from us, which are in fact possible by the grace of God at work in our lives.
May the Lord strengthen us to overcome temptation, and to persevere in our life of prayer and service in the Church. God is always ready and willing to fill us with grace, strength and power.
May we hunger for God and not be weighed down by other things. May this Advent be one of joy knowing we are making use of our time and energy for the things of God, the good gifts bestowed on those who seek first the Kingdom of God.
Abbot Christian Leisy, OSB