This coming Sunday, we will begin the new liturgical year with the beautiful season of Advent. It is a season of hope and spiritual expectation as we prepare to commemorate the birth of our Redeemer. Advent is a season of quiet joy as we remember with emotion the coming of our Savior, His birth in Bethlehem.
In the first two weeks of Advent, the Church directs our attention, not to the first coming of Christ in Bethlehem, but to His second coming in glory and power at the end of time. The Gospel this Sunday describes some rather frightening signs that will occur at that time. Saint Luke then writes: and then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.
During this Year of Faith, we are focusing on the articles of our faith contained in the Creed. We profess in the Nicene Creed that we believe that Jesus will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and his kingdom will have no end. We also profess that we look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.
The early part of the season of Advent reminds us of these truths about the Second Coming of Christ and the Final Judgment. In our journey of faith, we keep this future in mind. We are not to become preoccupied with it or live in unhealthy fear because of it. Nor should we waste time trying to figure out when the end of the world will come. No one knows, except the Father, Jesus teaches us. Rather than living in anxiety, our Lord teaches us to be alert always, to be ready for His coming every day. He says in this Sunday’s Gospel: Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man.
In this Sunday’s second reading, Saint Paul also invites us to prepare for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He exhorts us to conduct ourselves in a way that pleases God. This is how we are vigilant for the Lord’s coming: putting into practice His commandments, living in His love, resisting evil, and doing good. He calls each and every one of us to holiness. As Saint Paul wrote: For this is the will of God, your sanctification.
Our life as believers is one of continuous and vigilant waiting for Christ’s coming. We are to prepare for our final goal: our encounter with the Lord who will come in the splendor of glory. We await His coming with hope, the hope of salvation. Pope Benedict XVI has called Advent “the season of hope, par excellence.” Hope, which brings joy, is the basic spiritual attitude of Advent. If God is lacking in our lives, hope is lacking, and if hope is lacking, joy is lacking.
The latter part of the season of Advent will focus our attention on the first coming of Christ, when He emptied Himself of His divine glory to take on our mortal flesh. In coming among us as man, He brought us the gift of His love and His salvation. Our joy increases as we approach Christmas because we recognize that God made Himself a Child for us. He became an Infant in a manger out of love for us. The Christmas mystery cannot fail to bring us joy if we open our hearts to its true meaning.
In this season of Advent, when we reflect on Christ’s first and second comings, we also are mindful of a third coming, in the present. Jesus is “Emmanuel,” God-with-us. Joyfully remembering Christ’s birth and awaiting with hope His second coming, we also in the present can experience His presence among us. Right now, in the present, He offers us the gift of His love and His salvation. Our Holy Father said the following:
Present among us, Christ speaks to us in many ways: in Sacred Scripture, in the liturgical year, in the saints, in the events of daily life, in the whole of creation…. We in turn may speak to Him, presenting to Him the suffering that afflicts us, our impatience, the questions that well up in our hearts. We may be sure that He always listens to us! And if Jesus is present, there is no longer any time that lacks meaning or is empty.
My brothers and sisters, let us take advantage of this holy season of spiritual renewal. How? By keeping our focus on Christ. By making time for prayer. By making sure we go to confession during Advent. By not getting caught up in the commercialism of our culture’s celebration of Christmas. By keeping Christ at the center of our Advent and Christmas. By not allowing ourselves to become stressed out by too much frenetic activity during these weeks. By taking time to be with the Lord, meditating on His word, stopping to pray in church before the Blessed Sacrament or perhaps daily Mass.
Next Saturday, December 8th, we will celebrate the beautiful feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a holy day of obligation. Please make time for Holy Mass on this special feast, the patronal feast of our diocese and of our nation. It was from Mary that the Son of God took flesh through the action of the Holy Spirit. Let us place our hand in hers as we begin this season of Advent. Like Mary and with her help, let us make ourselves docile to the action of the Holy Spirit so that we may grow spiritually during this season and be filled with hope and joy as we prepare for Christmas!
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