As we know, the word advent comes from the Latin word adventus which means “coming”. Essentially, advent is a season that is concentrated on the coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Hence, advent is not simply concerned with the coming of Jesus at the solemnity of Christmas but also with his second coming. It is pivotal that we sincerely ask what kind of waiting are we engaging in.
Perhaps Pope’s Francis reflection may help us examine ourselves concerning where we are in our preparation. “The Church bride waits for her groom! We must ask ourselves, however, with great sincerity, are we really sparkling and credible witnesses of this expectation, of this hope? Do our communities still live in the sign of the presence of the Lord Jesus and of the passionate waiting for his coming, or do they appear tired, numb, under the weight of fatigue and resignation? Do we also run the risk of running out of the oil of faith and of the oil of joy? Be careful! Let us invoke the Virgin Mary, Mother of Hope and the Queen of Heaven, to be kept always in an attitude of listening and waiting, so that we can be already permeated by the love of Christ and can participate one day in a joy without end, in full communion with God. Do not forget, never forget: ‘And so we will be forever with the Lord!’ (1 Thessalonians 4:17)”.
While waiting can be a time of great expectation, yet one should never give in to boredom or discouragement. Thus, a fruitful way of waiting for the coming of Our Lord is that of being cleansed from sin. A great homily by the fourth and fifth century North Italian bishop and theological writer, Maximus of Turin, helped me enormously to interiorize this important truth.
“Thus, dear brothers, may we who await the birth of the Lord cleanse ourselves of all the remnants of sin! Let us fill his treasuries with many gifts, so that upon the arrival of that holy day we may welcome the strangers, support the widows, and clothe the poor!
Indeed, what would happen if, in the house of the servants under the same master, one were to proudly don silk garments while another was covered with rags; if one were stuffed with food while another suffered hunger and cold; if one were tormented by indigestion from yesterday’s gormandising while another could hardly stave off yesterday’s hunger? Or what should the purpose of our prayers be?
May we who are not generous toward our brothers ask to be liberated from the enemy. Let us imitate our Lord! Indeed, if he desires that the poor partake of heavenly grace with us, why should they not partake of earthly goods with us? May those who are our brothers in the sacraments lack no earthly sustenance, even if only so they may give testimony before God on our behalf: may we sustain them and may they give thanks to him. The more a poor man blesses the Lord, the more it will help the one who gives him cause to bless the Lord” (Homily 60, 3-4).
In this perspective, Maximus of Turin is fully accordant with the way the Bible sees real repentance, in other words, when it goes hand in hand with corporal works of mercy. The Prophet Isaiah is so clear about this point in his fifty-eighth chapter of his book.
“Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? (Isa. 58:6-7).
Pope Francis nicely summarised this in the comment he made during his catechesis in his general audience on October 24 of this year: “One cannot love only as long as ‘it’s convenient’; love manifests itself beyond the threshold of one’s own advantage, when everything is given without reserve.”
Is this not that kind of love which gives us real joy? Is this not what Advent is all about? Welcoming Jesus in the needy ones?