Advent is the season in which we call to mind the coming of the Lord. This season
has a twofold character: as a season to prepare for Christmas when Christ’s first coming to us is remembered; 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 (General Norms for the Liturgical Year and the Calendar, 39).
More often than not we spend much more of our time and prayer during the weeks of Advent reflecting upon and calling to mind the first coming of Christ nearly two thousand years ago at Bethlehem. It is certainly appropriate to do so and a very fruitful activity for the spiritual life, but if we only reflect upon the coming of the Christ-child we do ourselves a great disservice and we place ourselves in danger, for we then ignore the second character of Advent.
We know that Jesus Christ was born of the Blessed Virgin Mary so that he might embrace the cross and so die for our sins. We know that Jesus died for our sins so that he might be raised from the dead by the power of the Father and so wipe away our sins in the blood of the Lamb. We know that Jesus was raised from the dead so that he might come again to us and raise our mortal bodies from the dead to be like him forever in glory. Jesus, then, came to us in the Incarnation so that he might come to us also in the Second Coming at the Resurrection of the Dead. His first coming and his second coming must be seen together. St. Cyril of Jerusalem says,
At the first coming he was wrapped in swaddling clothes in a manger. At his second coming he will be clothed in light as in a garment. In the first coming he endured the cross, despising the shame; in the second coming he will be in glory, escorted by an army of angels. We look then beyond the first coming and await the second. At the first coming we said: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. At the second we shall say it again; we shall go out with the angels to meet the Lord and cry out in adoration: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord (Cat. 15:1-3).
It is the coming of Christ the King in glory for which we prepare during the season of Advent; we await, in joyful hope and expectation, for the coming of the King of Heaven and Earth when his kingdom will at long last be fully established and we will – God willing – be ushered into his kingdom for ever.
But Christ comes to us at other times, as well; his birth in Bethlehem and his Second Coming are not the only times he comes to meet us. If these we were the only times that he came to us, we could not know him as we do here and now. St. Anthony of Padua says to us,
Note that there are four Comings of Jesus Christ. The first was in the flesh, of which is said: Behold the great Prophet comes, and he will renew Jerusalem. The second coming is in the soul: We will come to him and will make our abode with him. The third is at death: Blessed is that servant, who when the Lord comes, etc. The fourth will be in majesty, whence it says in the [Book of Revelation]: Behold he comes with the clouds, and every eye shall see him (First Sunday of Advent, 3).
Last Sunday we celebrated the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King; this celebration has not ended, but rather has been extended throughout the next four weeks. For as we journey through the four weeks of Advent we journey toward Christ the King and we await his coming to judge the nations and set all things right, when he “will wipe away the tears from all faces” (Isaiah 25:8). On that day it will finally be said, “Behold our God, for whom we looked to save us! This is the LORD for whom we looked; let us rejoice and be glad that he has saved us” (Isaiah 25:9).
But until that time we cannot simply wait around twiddling our thumbs as we look for the magnificent and wondrous procession of angels and saints preceding our majestic King. We must prepare for the arrival of the King, for Jesus says to us, “May [I] not come suddenly and find you sleeping” (Mark 13:36). Our King gives us a very simple command to follow and to carry out: “Watch!” (Mark 13:37).
As we look for the coming of the Lord in increased prayer, we prepare ourselves interiorly for his coming so that, as St. Anthony teaches us, the Lord may enter into our souls. We must worthily prepare ourselves for the coming of the King who “places his servants in charge, each with his own work” (Mark 13:34).
What work has the Lord given to us? To parents, the Lord entrusts their children commanding them to raise their children according to the laws of Christ and his Church. To children, the Lord commands us to honor our parents and to develop our skills that he has given us and to use them to serve him. To those who work, he entrusts the mission of transforming the world by faithfully living out the Gospel life each day. To spouses, the Lord entrusts you to each other, commanding you to bring each other into the everlasting life of his kingdom. To those who do not work or have retired, the Lord entrusts a life of prayer for the needs of the Church and for the needs of the world. To his priests the Lord entrusts the mission of bringing all people to salvation through the administration of the sacraments. To those who serve in public office, the Lord entrusts the duty of seeing to the honest and genuine common good of all people. Each of us has a task that Christ the King has given to us and by fulfilling this duty we faithfully wait for the Lord, for “blessed is that servant whom his master on his arrival finds doing so” (Matthew 24:46).
As we wait with great and ardent longing for the return of the King, let us cry out with Isaiah, “Return for the sake of your servants… Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, with the mountains quaking before you, while you wrought awesome deeds we could not hope for, such as they had not heard of from of old” (Isaiah 63:17; 19). Come, Lord Jesus!