Let us be numbered among those who stay awake, living at the ready, saying "yes" to all of the invitations of grace given to us during this wonderful season of Advent.
CHESAPEAKE, Va. (Catholic Online) - We begin our season of preparation for the Nativity of the Lord today with the First Sunday of the Liturgical season called "Advent". Our wreath will be placed in a prominent place in our church sanctuaries as well as in many of our homes. The first candle for the first week will be lit as a sign of the coming of the Light of the World, the longed for Messiah, Jesus the Christ.
Our Liturgical readings will orient us toward the experiential essence of this season, joyful expectation and preparation for the coming(s) of the Lord. Our Bishops, Priests and deacons will wear purple, a color associated with the royalty of the One whom we will commemorate as condescending to be born as one like us, in a manger. The shade is to be a bit different than that which is used for Lent in order to symbolically express that Advent, though "penitential", is much more preparatory in nature. The emphasis is on clearing the way for the Lord by leveling all the hills caused by our sins, our wrong choices, and making straight the path that leads to the center of our lives. Then, welcoming the King of Glory to enter in and take up His residence within us.
The First Gospel reading of our Advent Liturgy from this years cycle B, is taken from St. Mark, chapter 13: 33 - 37: "Jesus said to his disciples: "Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come. It is like a man traveling abroad. He leaves home and places his servants in charge, each with his own work, and orders the gatekeeper to be on the watch. Watch, therefore; you do not know when the Lord of the house is coming, whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning. May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to all: 'Watch!'"
This short but poignant Gospel passage captures the heart of Advent; we who bear the name Christian are to live our lives always "on the ready". Another translation of the passage says "Stay Awake". In Baptism, we died with Christ and we were raised with Him. We entered into a relationship of communion in the Church which is His Body, a true participation in the Trinitarian communion. We are entrusted with continuing His redemptive mission until he comes again. How? By the living of our lives in Him, with Him, and for the sake of the world. Thus, how we treat those whom he brings into our lives, how we receive and administer the goods of the earth which have been entrusted to us and how we understand the purpose of our existence is different now, because He has come, He is coming and He will come again.
The readings in the Liturgy of the Hours throughout this Advent season will orient us to prepare for the coming(s) of the Lord. They will challenge us to examine our lives and clear out any obstacles to the working of His grace within us and then through us in the lives of others. This time of preparation for the Nativity, the First coming and time of anticipation of the Parousia, the Second Coming, is to be lived by us as men and women signed with the Cross who are wide awake, at the ready, always looking for His coming. The excerpts from the treasury of writings in the Christian Tradition will emphasize this theme of watchfulness. We begin on the First Sunday of Advent with an excerpt from an ancient homily from St. Cyril of Jerusalem entitled "The Twofold Coming of Christ: "We do not preach only one coming of Christ, but a second as well, much more glorious than the first. The first coming was marked by patience; the second will bring the crown of a divine kingdom.
"In general, whatever relates to our Lord Jesus Christ has two aspects. There is a birth from God before the ages, and a birth from a virgin at the fullness of time. There is a hidden coming, like that of rain on fleece, and a coming before all eyes, still in the future. At the first coming he was wrapped in swaddling clothes in a manger. At his second coming he will be clothed in light as in a garment. In the first coming he endured the cross, despising the shame; in the second coming he will be in glory, escorted by an army of angels.
"We look then beyond the first coming and await the second. At the first coming we said: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. At the second we shall say it again; we shall go out with the angels to meet the Lord and cry out in adoration: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
"The Savior will not come to be judged again, but to judge those by whom he was judged. At his own judgment he was silent; then he will address those who committed the outrages against him when they crucified him and will remind them: You did these things, and I was silent.
His first coming was to fulfill his plan of love, to teach men by gentle persuasion. This time, whether men like it or not, they will be subjects of his kingdom by necessity."
On Wednesday we will read one of my favorite Advent reflections from the great Abbott, St. Bernard of Clairvaux entitled "The Three Comings of the Lord": "We know that there are three comings of the Lord. The third lies between the other two. It is invisible, while the other two are visible. In the first coming he was seen on earth, dwelling among men; he himself testifies that they saw him and hated him. In the final coming all flesh will see the salvation of our God, and they will look on him whom they pierced. The intermediate coming is a hidden one; in it only the elect see the Lord within their own selves, and they are saved. In his first coming our Lord came in our flesh and in our weakness; in this middle coming he comes in spirit and in power; in the final coming he will be seen in glory and majesty.
"In case someone should think that what we say about this middle coming is sheer invention, listen to what our Lord himself ways: If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him. There is another passage of Scripture which reads: He who fears God will do good, but something further has been said about the one who loves, that is, that he will keep God's word. Where is God's word to be kept? Obviously in the heart, as the prophet says: I have hidden your words in my heart, so that I may not sin against you.
"Keep God's word in this way. Let it enter into your very being, let it take possession of your desires and your whole way of life. Feed on goodness, and your soul will delight in its richness. Remember to eat your bread, or your heart will wither away. Fill your soul with richness and strength.
Because this coming lies between the other two, it is like a road on which we travel from the first coming to the last. In the first, Christ was our redemption; in the last, he will appear as our life; in this middle coming, he is our rest and consolation.
If you keep the word of God in this way, it will also keep you. The Son with the Father will come to you. The great Prophet who will build the New Jerusalem will come, the one who makes all things new. This coming will fulfill what is written: As we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, we shall also bear the likeness of the heavenly man. Just as Adam's sin spread through all mankind and took hold of all, so Christ, who created and redeemed all, will glorify all, once he takes possession of all."
The first reading from Cyril emphasizes the living of our lives always oriented toward the final coming of the Lord. The early Christians regularly cried out the Aramaic prayer "Maranatha", "Come, Oh Lord". They not only expected His imminent return in glory, they lived their lives in that expectation. As a result, they turned the world of their age upside down. The second reading comes from the Second Millennium; the Church of the apostolic age had discovered that the coming of the Lord was not as immediate as they had thought after he had ascended to the father. However, they also discovered that He was Risen and alive in their midst as he promised he would be. They developed a way of living "at the ready", expecting His comings. That great monk of the Western Church, Bernard, adds this dimension, the Lord is always coming to those who live their lives looking for Him.
Let us be numbered among those who stay awake, living at the ready, saying "yes" to all of the invitations of grace given to us during this wonderful season of Advent. May our faith in the Lord come alive during this Advent and may we live that faith more profoundly. Let us enter into Advent 2008 renewing our own faith in the One who has come, is coming and will come again? Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus, transform us by your love and make us a light for others who look for you.
Be on the Watch, He is coming!
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