Readings for December 9
First Sunday of Advent
Jeremiah 33:14-16; 1 Thessalonians 3:12-4:2; Luke 21: 25-28, 34-36
Growing up Catholic, the season of Advent was always linked in my mind with the season of Lent. Both are weeks-long seasons of preparation for great feasts; both call for the liturgical color of purple; both include penance services, and so on.
In the seminary, however, I learned that unlike Lent, Advent is not strictly speaking a penitential season. Rather, Advent is a season of reflection, hope and anticipation.
It is indeed a season of preparation for the great solemnity of the Nativity of Jesus Christ, light of the world. But in fact, the church bids us to prepare for a threefold coming of Christ: Christ came to us in history through the Incarnation that we memorialize at Christmas; he comes to us at every holy Mass through the word of God and especially in holy Communion; and he is coming at the end of days to judge the living and the dead.
Everyone knows that Advent is a time to prepare to celebrate the Nativity, but we do well to reflect on the latter two ways Christ comes to us as well.
When I think of Advent in the first sense (preparing for Christmas), the mental picture that comes to me is that of Our Lady prayerfully reading the Scriptures alone in her room by candlelight. The Scriptures she’s reading are perhaps the Old Testament prophecies concerning the coming of the Messiah. The candle symbolizes that Mary’s son will be the light of the world, which breaks into the darkness of this world. The image’s most important feature is the presence of our Lady, for Advent is her season. She and her most chaste spouse St. Joseph alone celebrated the first Advent, as they prepared for the coming birth Emmanuel, God with us. The Blessed Virgin Mary is our model and guide for Advent, leading us to reflect with her on the greatest gift of God to the world, the Incarnation of Christ the Lord.
God’s generosity knows no bounds. It was not enough that he took on flesh and became like us in all things but sin. Nor was it enough for Christ to take our sins upon him and lay down his life on the cross that we might have eternal life.
In the superabundance of his grace, before departing to go back to his Father, Christ gave us the gift of his abiding presence in the most holy Eucharist. Every Mass is in a sense Christmas, as Christ “takes on flesh,” becoming truly present body, blood, soul and divinity under the sacramental signs of bread and wine.
More than gifts, cards and decorations, preparing to receive Christ worthily in holy Communion on Christmas day is the most important bit of preparation we can do for Christmas. Reflecting on our lives and where we are with God leads to heartfelt repentance from any vestiges of sin that still cling to us. Carving out time every day for prayer and meditation is something we should once again commit ourselves to do, even during this most busy time of year.
Finally, Advent is a time when we recall that Christ will come again at the end of time. His first coming was hidden and obscure; his second coming will be in power and glory seen by every person ever conceived, living and dead. His first coming was in peace during a tranquil starlight night; his second coming will be on the “day of the Lord,” and will be the climax of the mightiest war ever, the very battle of good against evil. He judged no one in his first coming, announcing only God’s jubilee of salvation for all who would believe; in his second coming he will judge the living and dead, and will repay each one according to their deeds.
For his faithful people, Christ has promised his second coming will be their time of vindication and blessing. We have to get ready to meet him when he comes.
May these considerations help us all to have a blessed Advent season and a very merry Christmas.
Father Grimm is pastor of Holy Spirit Church in New Castle.