We must encounter the Lord in Advent

  • December 8, 2010
Each year at this time, Advent seems to get lost in the shuffle.

The weeks before Christmas are bustling with things to do. We shop for presents, make trips to visit friends and relatives, attend concerts of seasonal music, put in appearances at the usual round of office parties and other sociable events. There is only one thing wrong with this happy round of activities: It inevitably distracts us Christians from engaging creatively with the wonderful truth of Advent as the Catholic Church has traditionally understood it.

“Beloved, now is the acceptable time spoken of by the Spirit, the day of salvation, peace and reconciliation: the great season of Advent,” St. Charles Borromeo wrote in a pastoral letter. “This is the season that the Church has always celebrated with special solemnity. We too should always observe it with faith and love, offering praise and thanksgiving to the Father for the mercy and love He has shown us in this mystery. In His infinite love for us, though we were sinners, He sent His only Son to free us from the tyranny of Satan... and to make us children of God and heirs of eternal life.”

In a Christian culture, or perhaps in a merely saner one, we would observe Advent as a little Lent, a time of restraint, penitence and expectation. But even though the season is full of distractions, we can still make space in it for meditating on the themes announced in the season’s readings at Mass and in the Liturgy of the Hours. These themes include the quiet coming of the Divine Word into human history at Bethlehem. They also include the resplendent appearing of the Lord at the end of history. And among the Advent messages, too, is the fact of the Kingdom’s arrival in the here and now, with every act of justice and love, nurture and sacrifice.

The scene for Advent is set each year by the Gospel proclaimed during the Mass of Christ the King, the last Sunday in our liturgical year. In this famous reading from St. Matthew’s narrative of the Good News, Jesus tells His followers that they will be judged at the end of time according to their faithfulness in feeding Him when He was hungry, clothing Him when He was naked, visiting Him when He was in prison. When they ask when they had ever seen Jesus in such distress, He replies that feeding, clothing, visiting the least person is doing so for Him.

Speaking to pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square on a recent Solemnity of Christ the King, Pope Benedict XVI asked: “Who does not know this passage? It has become a part of our civilization. It has marked the history of peoples of Christian culture, their hierarchy of values, their institutions, and their many benevolent and social organizations. In effect, the Kingdom of God is not of this world, but it brings to fulfilment all the good that, thanks to God, exists in man and history. If we put love of our neighbour into practice, according to the Gospel message, then we are making room for the lordship of God, and His kingdom will realize itself in our midst. If instead each of us thinks only of his own interests, the world cannot but be destroyed.”

We pursue this year’s Advent journey in a world that is indeed being laid waste by economic and political turmoil. The situation is bad enough to discourage even the most sanguine man or woman among us.

But the temptation to despair is exactly what Advent calls us to renounce. We are summoned to repentance and renewal, not dolorous introspection. Our Advent task is to turn away from selfishness and self-centred anxiety and find new ways to participate in the life-giving work of the Kingdom. Looking forward to the end of all history in God, seeking to bring about the Kingdom of God in daily life, we encounter the Lord who is making all things new.

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