1st Sunday of Advent 2015
The days are coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise that I made to the House of Israel and Judah [Jer. 33:14]
Today, the Church once again begins the holy season of Advent. For twenty centuries, the Church has been awaiting the second coming of Christ, always praying her Marantha, “Come, Lord Jesus.” It is not as if the Church could ever be separated from her bridegroom, or that Christ has not been present to the Church and acting on her behalf all these centuries. For the Church’s whole life and activity is made possible only by His presence and activity within her, within her sacraments, within her teaching, and within all her works of sanctification and charity.
So what the Church constantly prays for, and especially during this season of Advent, is not that Christ should for the first time come and be present in her as she makes her pilgrimage through this world to Heaven. No, when the Church prays Maranatha, Come Lord Jesus, she is praying that He should come into the world in a truly new and definitive way, in a very visible way that will in fact require no faith on anyone=s part to experience his presence. We believers experience His invisible presence now by virtue of our faith which penetrates the mystery of his unseen presence. What we are praying for in our cry Maranatha, however, is that He will come into His creation visibly, as our glorious King and Judge, to claim His Bride and establish His Kingdom fully by His final judgement. Christ’s second coming, we know by faith, will bring human history to its fulfillment and will by his judgement and irresistible decrees separate definitively and forever all the good and the evil in creation.
Advent, then, is a season that addresses all of human history, past, present and future. Thus, logically, Advent first looks to the past, to the long history in which all of mankind was waiting for God=s help, going right back to the beginning when man sinned and lost paradise but was given hope that we might one day recover that Paradise lost. And this liturgical season especially recalls the 2000 years that Israel was waiting for the fulfillment of the specific promise made to Abraham, that in his offspring all nations would be blessed, that is, that the universal longing would be fulfilled in the offspring of one man, Jesus the Lord.
Above all, this holy season directs our attention to the initial fulfillment of that promise in Bethlehem 2000 years ago, thus preparing us to celebrate the feast we will celebrate four weeks from now, that coming of Christ for the first time into our fallen world, as the God made man, so that man might be liberated from sin and death, and by God=s grace become a true child of God, man made God. Thus the season obviously has this present dimension, based upon the past of salvation history, a present in which we rejoice that God has now come into our world and remains with us always.
However, this season also pushes our attention far beyond Christmas to the very end of time, when Christ will come once more, a second coming, and this time not in the weakness of the God child of Bethlehem who would one day die for our salvation, but then in a final coming in power and glory as the redeemer of man and Son of God, the King and Lord of all creation.
So what concretely do we look forward to in both senses of that phrase, look forward to in time, and look forward to in hopeful longing? We Christians look forward to the final victory of Christ over all that is evil in creation and to the final establishment of His Kingdom, when every tear will be wiped away and when all evil will be banished from His new creation. Thus, we look forward with great joy to creation itself being gloriously transformed by the power of God into a new and more wonderful reality which will finally become the fitting dwelling place of God=s children, themselves at last restored to the likeness of the Son in both body and soul, sharing the glory of our God forever.
In the past and present, Christ has certainly accomplished all His saving work in principle, that is, he has triumphed absolutely over all evils that afflict mankind, first in His own humanity and then in his saints. He Himself is risen, glorified and established in power at the right hand of the Father. But his victory is not yet complete, for it is not complete in His Church, in us, and in fact not even in those who have gone before us into His kingdom. We are all very well aware how incomplete his victory is in us on earth. For we still must ask forgiveness for our daily sins, for the evil that we still do; and we still are subject to suffering and death by the evil that happens to us. How can we fail to long for that glorious day of his second coming when, at last, the petition we make in the Lord=s Prayer, deliver us from evil, the evil we do and the evil we suffer, will be finally be answered by His grace?
But we look forward to far more than the delivery from all evil. We, the Church on earth, and even the Church in Heaven and in Purgatory, together look forward to sharing the beatitude of God in the body as well as the soul. What will it be like in that eternal day, not simply to be free from all suffering forever, in soul and body, but to actually experience the unending ecstasy of God=s beatitude in the flesh, in the body as well as in the soul? And this blessed ecstasy will no longer be something we desire, or long for, or pursue, but will simply be the permanent state of our being, forever, in God.
Reflect on this tremendous truth during this holy season now and then. If we find the temporary and passing pleasures of this life so enticing that we are tempted at times to make earthly pleasure the goal of our earthly life, what will it be like when the infinitely greater ecstasy of God=s life becomes the permanent condition of our humanity, of our body and soul, glorified in Christ? This too is what the Church prays for in longing for Christ to come again. It is a prayer, a cry from the heart of all the redeemed, that Christ=s redemption should be brought to completion in all his children, known finally only to Him, but whose names are written in the Book of Life. Maranatha we pray, Come Lord Jesus, come and make us, at last, truly like you. Come soon, and by your Spirit renew the whole of your creation forever. Amen.