Q: Archbishop J, what is so special about Advent?
Advent is a healing balm for the sick soul, sight for the spiritually blind, grace for the wary wayfarer, a compass for the lost pilgrim and a time for a fresh perspective where the secular has eclipsed the sacred.
God has given us this very special season of grace as a portal to the truth of all reality: the whole world is pregnant with God if we have eyes to see. Advent points us to the truth of the sacred, the holiness of God that breaks out in every mundane and secular activity.
Advent accomplishes its work by pointing us in three directions: (1) to Christ’s first coming as a child; (2) to His second coming when He will judge the heavens and the earth and all there is within; and (3) to the coming of Christ, every moment of every day.
The scripture readings, the music and wreath that mark this liturgical season are all designed to sharpen our awareness and deepen our longing for Christ. If we participate in this season well, it will open our hearts to Christ. It will instil in us a longing for His coming in the everydayness of our lives and prepare us ultimately for His coming in glory. The Catechism says.
When the Church celebrates the liturgy of Advent each year, she makes present this ancient expectancy of the Messiah, for by sharing in the long preparation for the Saviour’s first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desire for his second coming. By celebrating the precursor’s birth and martyrdom, the Church unites herself to his desire: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (CCC 524).
As we reflect on Christ’s first coming as a baby, we are pushed to contemplate His second coming as universal Saviour.
This gives us eyes to see His third coming: in the Eucharist, in the face of the poor, in the stranger, the sick, the orphan and widow, in the scriptures and in His body—us gathered to pray at Mass.
Stephen Covey, in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, names his second habit— “Begin with the end in mind”. From contemplating the ending, we are given an opportunity to see what is important and what is of lesser value.
We have downplayed the second coming in our time. We have been so accustomed to give prominence to this world and all that is so pressing in it, that we have lost sight of a vital truth of Christianity—Christ will come to judge all the living and the dead. There is an end that we are meant to contemplate every day of our lives.
There was a time when preachers focused a lot on “the last things”. Today, the emphasis is on the immediate things. In doing so we have lost some perspective. We are missing the proverbial forest for the trees. We are caught up in created things, God’s gift to us, and not seeing the hand of the Creator in all His work.
This loss of perspective has devastating consequences. It allows us to trample sacred spaces and trample the sacredness of each person, the unique gift of God, an image of the Divine.
Because of this loss we have turned everything into a commodity. We no longer see the divine spark in creation or in human ecology. Hence our violence to both creation and humanity, and our neglect of the poor.
The Dictionary of Bible Themes (Manser, M H, 2009), defines the last things this way: “The doctrine of the last things (“eschatology”) includes the subjects of death, the second coming of Jesus Christ, the resurrection of the dead, the last judgment, heaven and hell.”
This is the end we are invited to contemplate as we begin this liturgical season. We will die! Every last one of us! What value will our life be if it is not lived for Christ.
Let us begin with the end in mind. When you die, for what do you want to be remembered? What legacy do you want to leave behind? This is the eternal question I invite you to contemplate this Advent. If you were to die now, would you be ready to meet your God?
Another way of asking the question is: What do you worship? We spend our life on whatever we worship. If we live for power, pleasure, money or prestige, then that is what we worship, and they become all-consuming for us and our legacy. If we spend our life for God, care for the poor and the creation, in prayer and service, then we also know whom we worship. What or whom do you worship?
Worship comes from the old English ‘worth-ship’, the acknowledgment of worth. What do you worship? What do you count as of supreme value in your life? On what do you spend your time, talent and energy? Is it on what is ultimate, on God? Or, is it on what is pressing, ephemeral and transitional—work, money, power, pleasure, etc?
In Advent we read a lot from the prophet Isaiah, the man of hope. Isaiah speaks in a time when Israel was completely devastated. They were in exile because they failed to see the transcendence of God; to listen and obey the law and treat the poor and stranger with respect.
Rather, people ordered their lives by selfish desires, they killed the prophets and ultimately exchanged God the Creator for things that had no power. Who do you worship? Where is your life being spent?
Key Message: Advent is a season of grace, given to us to recalibrate our spiritual and moral compass, to point us back to the divine and remind us there are ultimate consequences for our actions.
Action Step: Use this liturgical season as a time of soul searching. Go to Mass every day if possible. But at least, reflect on the readings of the day, and hear in them God’s longing for you.
Scripture Reading: Isaiah 2:1–5; Matthew 24:37–44.