Today is the First Sunday of Advent, and the beginning of another liturgical year. Advent, far from being a penitential time or a time of despair, is a time of rejoicing in hope, a time of patient waiting.
Advent does not change God. This liturgical season deepens our longing and anticipation that God will do what prophets and the anointed have promised. We pray that God will yield to our greedy need to see and feel the promise of salvation here and now. Advent summons us to the beginning, the lavishness of God's compassion and mercy frame yet another year for us. As Christians, we proclaim the coming of Christ - not just a first coming but another as well that will be far more glorious than the first.
The first took place under the sign of patient suffering; the second, on the contrary, will see Christ wearing the crown of God's kingdom.
In the meantime, however, there is the painful necessity of the cross for Jesus and all believers in him.
In the fourth century, St. Cyril, Bishop of Jerusalem, wrote that almost everything about Jesus Christ is twofold.
He has two births: One from God before the ages, the other from the Virgin at the end of all ages. He has two comings: the one is hidden and resembles the falling of the dew upon a fleece; the other - the future one - on the contrary will be manifest. At his first coming, he was wrapped in linens and laid in a manger; at the second, light shall be his robe.
In the first coming he endured the Cross, heedless of its shame; in his second coming he will be in glory surrounded by an army of angels. Let us therefore not stop at his first coming but look forward to the second. We hailed him at his first coming with the words, "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" and we shall hail him in the same way at his second coming. For we shall go out to meet the Lord and his angels, and, prostrating ourselves before him, we shall cry, "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord."
In most Christian Churches, today's second reading from St. Paul's first letter to the Thessalonians [3:12-4:2] gives us an insight into Paul's efforts to strengthen his Thessalonian converts in their new faith about twenty years after the death and resurrection of Jesus. For Paul, an essential part of the Christian message was the Parousia, or the Second Coming. Without that event, the drama of salvation was incomplete.
Paul believed the Parousia was imminent, but preparation was required. Paul asked two things: (1) an increase in mutual and universal love and (2) the attainment of the Christian goal.
The goal was holiness expressed in loving concern for one another. Holiness would be achieved through daily ordinary acts of goodness, kindness, charity and hope. This is the work of Advent for each of us.
During these days and weeks we are invited to quietly prepare our hearts and our lives for the coming of the Son of God in the flesh.
For what or for whom are we waiting in life? What virtues or gifts are we praying to receive during this season? What material things do we seek? Do we long for healing and reconciliation in any broken relationships? What meaning and understanding do we desire to have in the midst of our own darkness, sadness, and difficulties? What qualities of Jesus are we seeking in our own lives this Advent? Many times, the things, qualities, gifts, or people we long for give us great insights into our true identity.