Advent, which is the period of practically four Sundays and weeks before Christmas, from the Latin word adventus that means ‘coming’, concentrates on Jesus’ double coming to our world. The first one occurred in the past, two millennia ago, whereas the next one will occur at the end of time.
However, and as St. Bernard of Clairveaux rightly tells us, Christ comes in the here and now too. In other words, between His past and future coming Christ also comes at the present moment.
In one of the most powerful and inspiring Advent homilies that was ever preached in Church history by St Bernard, which precisely deals with The Three Comings of the Lord, which is normally read in the Office of readings in the Liturgy of the Hours on the first Wednesday of Advent, we find the following:
“We know that there are three comings of the Lord. The third lies between the other two. It is invisible, while the other two are visible. In the first coming he was seen on earth, dwelling among men; he himself testifies that they saw him and hated him. In the final coming all flesh will see the salvation of our God, and they will look on him whom they pierced. The intermediate coming is a hidden one; in it only the elect see the Lord within their own selves, and they are saved. In his first coming our Lord came in our flesh and in our weakness; in this middle coming he comes in spirit and in power; in the final coming he will be seen in glory and majesty.
In case someone should think that what we say about this middle coming is sheer invention, listen to what our Lord himself ways: If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him. There is another passage of Scripture which reads: He who fears God will do good, but something further has been said about the one who loves, that is, that he will keep God’s word. Where is God’s word to be kept? Obviously in the heart, as the prophet says: I have hidden your words in my heart, so that I may not sin against you.
Keep God’s word in this way. Let it enter into your very being, let it take possession of your desires and your whole way of life. Feed on goodness, and your soul will delight in its richness. Remember to eat your bread, or your heart will wither away. Fill your soul with richness and strength.
Because this coming lies between the other two, it is like a road on which we travel from the first coming to the last. In the first, Christ was our redemption; in the last, he will appear as our life; in this middle coming, he is our rest and consolation.
If you keep the word of God in this way, it will also keep you. The Son with the Father will come to you. The great Prophet who will build the new Jerusalem will come, the one who makes all things new. This coming will fulfill what is written: As we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, we shall also bear the likeness of the heavenly man. Just as Adam’s sin spread through all mankind and took hold of all, so Christ, who created and redeemed all, will glorify all, once he takes possession of all”.
In his teachings, Pope Francis helps us live this middle coming of the Lord with His spirit, power, rest and consolation, at the present moment. In fact, he tells us that advent is a time to verify our longing for God. In his Angelus of 3 December 2017 he said: “Advent is the time we are given to welcome the Lord who comes to encounter us, and also to verify our longing for God, to look forward and prepare ourselves for Christ’s return”.
For Pope Francis advent is a great time to pray. In his Angelus speech of December 10 2017 he observed: “Advent is thus a favourable time to pray with greater intensity, to reserve to the spiritual life the important place it deserves”. Advent is not just about Jesus but also about His and our Mother Mary too. She is the one who supports our waiting for God. At the Angelus address of 8 December 2013 the Pope said: “Mary sustains our journey toward Christmas, for she teaches us how to live this Advent Season in expectation of the Lord. For this time of Advent is a time of waiting for the Lord, who will visit us all on the feast, but also, each one, in our own hearts. The Lord is coming! Let us wait for him!”
Advent prepares us for our final meeting with Christ. On December 2 2018 the Pope said: “During Advent we do not just live in anticipation of Christmas; we are also called to rekindle the anticipation of the glorious return of Christ — when he will return at the end of time — preparing ourselves, with consistent and courageous choices, for the final encounter with him. We remember Christmas, we await the glorious return of Christ, and also our personal encounter: the day in which the Lord will call”.
In the Pope’s instruction the advent season invites us to commit ourselves in favour of the needy. In the Angelus address of December 2 2018, he said: “Advent invites us to a commitment to vigilance, looking beyond ourselves, expanding our mind and heart in order to open ourselves up to the needs of people, of brothers and sisters, and to the desire for a new world. It is the desire of many people tormented by hunger, by injustice and by war. It is the desire of the poor, the weak, the abandoned. This is a favourable time to open our hearts, to ask ourselves concrete questions about how and for whom we expend our lives.”
The Holy Father reminds us that advent is a time for us to be amazed by newness. In his Angelus speech of November 27 2016 Pope Bergoglio noticed: “In this season of Advent, we are called to expand the horizons of our hearts, to be amazed by the life which presents itself each day with newness. In order to do this, we must learn to not depend on our own certainties, on our own established strategies, because the Lord comes at a time that we do not imagine. He comes to bring us into a more beautiful and grand dimension”.
Advent is so special because it is the liturgical season where hope is restored. On December 1 2013 Pope Francis’ Angelus address brought forth this theme when he said: “The season of Advent, restores this horizon of hope, a hope which does not disappoint for it is founded on God’s Word. A hope which does not disappoint, simply because the Lord never disappoints! He is faithful! He does not disappoint! Let us think about and feel this beauty”.
Finally, the present advent is a golden opportunity for you and me to let ourselves be drawn towards God. In his Twitter message of December 21 2013, Pope Francis said: “Advent is a journey towards Bethlehem. May we let ourselves be drawn by the light of God made man”.
Can we humbly let this advent to make us vigilant by “paying attention to our neighbor in difficulty and allowing their need to draw us in, without waiting for him or her to ask us for help”?
Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap