Advent is upon us. The word means “coming” and the season focuses first on Christ’s second coming at the end of time, and then on the historical reality of his first coming and his birth at Christmas.
When the year 1000 was about to dawn, people were fleeing to mountains, in anticipation that the return of Christ to earth was imminent. At the dawn of the year 2000, as many of us recall, those expectations took a more technological twist, with fears of major computer, electrical — and hence societal — breakdowns.
Neither happened. Yet both moments in history remind us of something deeper, the lesson of Advent.
The Lord wants us to anticipate and prepare for His coming, not as something that we hinge on a particular date or identify with a particular calamity, but as an ordinary aspect of our daily Christian living. On the one hand, we know He is coming; on the other, we don’t know when. Yet every moment is an opportunity to make that coming more central to our lives.
We know He is coming. “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God” (1 Thess. 4:16). His return in glory is professed in the Creed: “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.” This will be the culmination of human history.
We do not know the year, day, or hour of His coming. “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has fixed by his own authority” (Acts 1:7). As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “This eschatological coming could be accomplished at any moment” (CCC, 673).
Awaiting and preparing for that coming is an ordinary, foundational aspect of Christian life. At each Mass we are reminded of this when, after the Our Father, the celebrant prays the words “we await the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.” Our “waiting” is filled with joy, because when Christ returns, our salvation is fulfilled and all evil is conquered. Our waiting is filled with hope, because Christ embodies all we long for. Our waiting is active, not passive, because the fruits of our efforts at building a world of justice, love, and peace will not be lost when Christ returns. Rather, “we will find them once again, cleansed this time from stain of sin, illuminated and transfigured” (Second Vatican Council, Gaudium et Spes, n.39).
A key way to celebrate Advent, therefore, is to focus on how our daily activity can increase these fruits of justice and peace in the world. The Lord wants to find us active upon His return, active in establishing the Kingdom which He comes to fulfill. The work of defending human life is central to that Kingdom. Advent is a perfect time to re-dedicate ourselves to proclaim, celebrate, and serve the Gospel of Life. It is a perfect time for parishes to start or strengthen respect life committees, or to have public commissioning of such groups.
Lord, at your coming, may you find us already welcoming you in our daily welcome of the most vulnerable brothers and sisters!