November 29, 2023 // Perspective

In Advent, We Prepare for the Coming of Christ – and His Second Coming

I must admit, Advent is my favorite liturgical season of the year. Yes, I know the Christmas and Easter seasons are more important in terms of their recounting of salvation history, but Advent seems to be most akin to my lived experience of the Christian life. It is spent in anticipation and in waiting. Of course, everyone knows Advent is the season right before Christmas – and even secular organizations capitalize on the 25 days before Christmas by selling “advent” calendars with a new candy or a new beer to try each day before Christmas.

But even more fundamental than the joyful anticipation of Christmas, Advent invites us to look forward to the day when Jesus Christ, the King of the Universe, will return in glory. It also invites us to contemplate the Advent of our own entering into eternity when our mortal lives come to an end.

And all of this is quite fitting. As the days become longer, darker, and slower, holy Mother Church invites us to reflect on our own mortality. She invites us to realize that each day we are moving closer and closer to our final destiny. She is also clear in what we will encounter as we pass from this world into the next: death, judgment, heaven, and hell.

I was recently listening to an episode on the Hallow app (which I highly recommend if you are looking for a Christmas gift!) with Jesuit Father Robert Spitzer discussing the phenomena of near-death experience. In the episode, Father Spitzer recounts some of the scientific data that has recently been collected regarding these phenomena, as well as individual anecdotes from people who were clinically dead and then returned to consciousness.

They were fascinating stories, because these people had lost all brain and heart activity for a substantial period of time, only to return to consciousness to recount what they had experienced. Their experiences, by and large, confirmed what we already know by faith in Jesus – heaven and hell are real. Heaven is better than we can possibly describe, and hell is more horrific than we can dare to imagine.

Often enough, it is very easy to forget these eternal realities. It is so easy to get caught up in the day-to-day duties and responsibilities of life that we forget we are actually going somewhere – that our actions now can have an infinite effect.

For the first Sunday of Advent, the responsorial psalm comes from Psalm 80 and says, “Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved.” The psalm gives us an opportunity to ask ourselves: What will it be like to see the King of the Universe face to face on Judgment Day?

One of the first images that comes to mind is from the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. When I was in seminary, I would occasionally go there to pray, and in the basilica’s apse there is an enormous image of a mosaic called “Christ in Majesty.” Christ is pictured in glory, with flames surrounding His head, His arms in a powerful position, and His face projecting a stern look of judgment.

Perhaps, this might be how you, too, imagine Christ in judgment. And, who knows, maybe when time comes to an end, this really will be how Christ appears. We can all look forward to that day in hope-filled anticipation.

In the meantime, I think we can look to the other ways in which Christ comes to meet us each and every day before we go to meet Him in eternity. For instance, before we meet the Just Judge in all His glory, we can meet Him in the tribunal of mercy when we go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Likewise, when we go to daily prayer or read the sacred Scriptures, we can already speak with the One who holds our future in His nail-scarred hands. Most importantly, when we go to receive Jesus in holy Communion or adore Him during Eucharistic adoration, we can now be in communion with the One we seek to be in communion with for eternity.

When I imagine my last day, I hope I will have had the opportunity to make a good confession and receive holy Communion before I meet the Lord. And when I go to meet Him in glory, my hope is that He will tell me: “It was great to see you earlier today. Welcome home.”

So how do we prepare for the coming of Christ this Advent? Seek the face of the Lord now! Find Him in the confessional. Find Him in the Eucharist. Find Him in the Scriptures. Find Him now so we can look forward to meeting Him in eternal glory!

Father Brian Isenbarger is a Parochial Vicar at St. Vincent de Paul Church in Fort Wayne.

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