Friday, November 25, 2016 - Updated: 6:00 am
QUESTION: Every year I look forward to the beginning of Advent to get me into the Christmas spirit, but the Scripture readings for the first few weeks of Advent are more frightening than helpful. What is the church trying to say by this?
ANSWER: The “General Norms for the Liturgical Year and the Calendar” say Advent has a twofold character: as a season to prepare for Christmas when Christ’s first coming to us is remembered, and as a season when that remembrance directs the mind and heart to await Christ’s Second Coming at the end of time. Advent is thus a period for devout and joyful expectation (see paragraph 39).
Advent then is not just a nice time to think about Christmas. The liturgy of Advent is challenging. The Scripture readings for the early days of Advent focus on the coming of Christ at the end of time. Those readings are enough for most of us to ponder the direction of our lives. That pondering should also motivate us to consider changing our lives if we realize that we are not at all prepared for Christ’s coming.
The “characters” of Advent are distinct but clearly related. The coming of Christ into human history was at God’s initiative. It was awaited since the sin of Adam and Eve. It was foretold by all the prophets. It was described as “… a people who walked in darkness have seen a great light” (see Isaiah 9:1). It was an event described by the angels as a “message of great joy.” The clear focus of the final days of Advent (especially beginning Dec. 17) is the birth of the Savior of the world.
The pivotal change rests on the belief that the Savior of the world is also the judge who will come again. Clearly the infant grows up and becomes both Messiah and Lord. It is as Lord that Christ comes to meet us at the end of our earthly life. This “meeting” is a clear fulfillment of the promise made in the Gospel of John: “I will come back to take you with me so that where I am you also may be” (John 14:1-6). That appearance of Christ is the fulfillment of redemption and salvation won for us by his mission on earth. His glory at the right hand of the Father is our destiny as well.
Every one of these “comings” of Christ is reflected in Advent. Every one of these “comings” should be looked upon with joy. For those who are living according to the law of the Lord that moment is the recognition of being “judged” worthy to walk with the Lamb.
Judgment in the Old Testament was initially seen as “giving our enemies what they deserve.” The prophets corrected this view and make it clear that everyone would be judged, not just enemies. For those of the New Testament, the return of Christ is seen as judgment, but one that is also the fulfillment of the promise of Jesus to his disciples.
Advent is using this context not to frighten but to affirm clearly that one must always be prepared.
Father Bober is pastor of St. Kilian Parish in Adams and Cranberry townships.