Prophet Jeremiah 33:14-16, First Thessalonians 3:12-4:2; Gospel According to Saint Luke 21:25-28, 34-36
Every Advent, the Church reflects in her Liturgy—the Mass and the Divine Office or Liturgy of the Hours–the threefold coming of Jesus Christ into the world. The “three comings” of the Lord, include his birth at Bethlehem two millennia ago, his coming to us each day in the power of the Holy Spirit, and in the final coming at the end of our early sojourn and at the end of time.
What so many Christians do each year, especially during the month of December, is “re-enact” the Lord’s coming into the world by hosting “live Nativities,” pageants or parades, and concerts, especially of the Baroque-era oratorio, “the Messiah” by George Frideric Handel, died 1759, even though the piece was originally an Easter offering!
In any case, a lot of time and effort is put into celebrating with joy the coming of the Redeemer. For many, it is perhaps the highlight of the year, even though it all takes place in “the Darkest Midnight in December,” as an ancient Christmas song says, when “no snow nor hail nor winter storm shall hinder us from remembering the Babe that on this night was born.”
Just as parents have a time of “expectancy” before the birth of a child, so do Christians have the same, awaiting the Lord during a season of hope and preparation, called Advent, which culminates in the celebration of Christ’s birth, most especially with Christmas Midnight Mass. Admittedly, today’s culture has heavily commercialized all that surrounds Christmas, but we are nonetheless invited to remember the real meaning of Advent and Christmas, the “reason for the season,” as it is sometimes expressed.
Growing up in Portland, Oregon, in the 1950s and 60s, there was always some publicity at this time of year underlined with the motto: “Keep Christ in Christmas.” I believe it may have been organized more by local Protestants than Catholics, but in any case, it was a noble effort, and hopefully it helped some to shift the focus from the commercial to the spiritual at Christmas time. My mom, for example, always prominently displayed a Nativity scene on top of the television set, the usual focal point of the living room!
Each of the comings of Jesus, in time past, now and at the end of time, is fundamentally a call to be prepared. This Sunday the Gospel passage from Saint Luke underlines the importance of “watching and praying” at all times, waiting for the coming of the Lord, who will surely come, and the coming of the Son of God is meant to be a moment of great joy.
To emphasize that, Saint Luke advises that we “look up” and “raise our heads,” which are images of hope, courage and transformation. That is really the point of it all, transformation in Christ, to willingly undergo change, to be altered at the core of our being, in order to participate more fully the life in Christ that is being offered to us every day.
The transformative process, whereby we are redeemed by Jesus Christ, ultimately means being set free from the bondage of sin and distanced from the realm of darkness and all human limitations. In the course of this process, we enter into the Kingdom of God, who is our peace. To “be with the Lord,” a phrase often used by Saint Paul in his letters to the early Christians, sums up very well what this earthly sojourn is all about. We are all God’s “treasured possession,” (see the Letter to the Ephesians, chapter 1, verse 14), meaning we are being called to greatness, offered at no cost, only a willing heart.
Because “your redemption is near,” as Saint Luke points out to the hearers of his Gospel, we need to be on the watch, attentive at all times and pray constantly. This is done not in dread or fear, but in hope, desiring to avoid the misfortune of missing out on the good things the Lord has in store for those who love God.
What is life all about then? The theories abound, but it is basically about striving and hoping to stand before the Lord, and always hear the word, “come.” God calls us to be patient, obedient and sincere in accepting the time, place and circumstances of Jesus’ manifestations in our lives.
Saint Paul puts the work of followers of Jesus in very concrete terms in the second reading for this Sunday:
“Overflow with love for one another and for all . . . strengthen your hearts, making them blameless and holy before our God . . . as you learned from us, . . . so conduct yourselves in a way pleasing to God . . . you know the instructions we gave you in the Lord Jesus” (from the Second Letter to the Thessalonians 3:12 – 4:2).
As Christians we believe that the people who enter our lives and in the events of life, our God comes to us. At Vigils each morning, we monks chant Psalm 94, which includes this important phrase: “If today you hear God’s voice, harden not your hearts.” Many that be a reality for all of us, every day.
Blessed Advent to all.
Abbot Christian Leisy, OSB