The Word in the Sunday Eucharist: First Sunday in Advent
Today we begin a new year in the Church, during which we will celebrate all the saving events in the life of Jesus. The next four weeks constitute the Advent Season. The word Advent means arrival or coming. There are two comings of Christ: the fist took place when he was born of Mary in Bethlehem; the second, when he will come again in glory at the end of time. And so the Church divides this Advent Season into two parts. The first part, which begins today and goes until December 16th, emphasizes the preparation for the Second Coming of Christ. The second part, from December 17th through Christmas Eve, puts the stress on the celebration of his birth. So, as we begin today the Advent season, we look to the end, to the completion of all the things that Jesus intended throughout his life on earth, a completion that will come only at the end of time.
Advent is a call for us to persevere in making Jesus de center of our lives. In Advent the Church recalls the coming of the Lord. But a liturgical celebration is not a mere memory work. To celebrate means in this case to re-enact the event, not just in thought, but in real life. Every event recalled by the liturgy is an encounter of God with man. And God is willing to pour his sanctifying grace among those who take part in every liturgical event. Thus the celebration of Advent means that we share once more in the longing for God’s coming and the conversion that prepares for it. It is a way of experiencing more and more fully how God comes to us in our destitution.
Advent should be a joyful time, since the expectation of a happy event always produces a happy feeling. The Gloria is omitted in the Mass not because we are sad, but only so that on Christmas our singing of this great angelic song may be, in a certain sense, a new experience for us. Today we begin the joyful expectation of the final Coming of Christ at the end of time. The early Christians had an intense yearning for it; a common belief among them was that Jesus would come again, this time to mark history’s fulfillment and the definitive establishment of God’s Kingdom. The belief was based in Jesus’ own words, such as the ones found in today’s Gospel reading. If we believe that the Son of God came in human flesh, then we must believe he will come again. If we rejoice in his first coming, we must rejoice also in the second. If, as we said, the early Christians had an intense yearning for the coming of Jesus on the last day, and we rather dread it, it seems obvious that our present perspective is much different from theirs.
It is no surprise that we are troubled by the thought of the end of the world. The Gospel portrays an awesome picture. But the images in the Gospel refer to a judgment by God. And God’s judgment destroys one thing only: sin in all its forms, not goodness. All sin and evil will be removed from the universe by the coming of Christ. And we will be part of that status without sin, if in the meantime we strive to live according to today’s readings: Be on the watch… Pray constantly… Overflow with love for one another... Conduct yourselves in a way pleasing to God.
Jesus did not speak of his Second Coming in order not scare us, but to inspire us through the urgency of the Gospel message. The time to believe is now; the time to love our sisters and brothers, to bring justice to the world, to live unselfishly is now! The end could come at any moment. Jesus thus encourages us to live in the present as though the end were just around the corner. There is no time to waste. Advent is a good time to start preparing for the coming of Jesus, both at Christmas and on the last day. Jesus himself is present during the Mass to help us receive him worthily now and to welcome him and at the end of our days on earth. After the Consecration, let’s say with renewed faith: Christ will certainly come again.