Matthew 24:37-44, First Sunday of Advent
We have entered another Advent Season.
Why? Why does the Church lead us along the same path every year, repeating the same seasons, even the same readings?
Is it for lack of creativity and imagination?
No, the Church is always young, and never runs out of creativity. In every generation she gives the world new saints, new religious orders, new artists. The Church is ever ancient, and yet ever new.
Is it out of arrogance? Does the Church think we are too unintelligent to understand it the first time around?
No, the Church is a wise, loving mother who knows her children well, sincerely respects them, and is always leading them forward, never backward.
Is it out of malice? Does the Church want to bore us to death? No, it is certainly not out of malice. The Church may often be demanding, but when she is, it is for our benefit, not our destruction.
So what is the reason for another Advent?
The word “advent” comes from the Latin “ad-venire”, meaning to come to, to come towards.
This season highlights the three comings of Christ: the first, 2000 years ago; the last, sometime in the future; and the ongoing – Christ’s constant coming into our lives through his grace, his providence, and his sacraments.
We live in the final age of human history, the age which will end in Christ’s second coming, the destruction of the cosmos as we know it, and the creation of a new heavens and earth – the full establishment of Christ’s Kingdom, as today’s Readings described.
We are already citizens of that Kingdom, because we are members of his Church. The Church gives us the season of Advent in order to remind us of this, and to give us a chance to check up on the quality of our citizenship.
One of the reasons we sometimes find it difficult to live deeply the liturgical seasons is because we are so used to life in an artificial world. We are surrounded by machines. And machines don’t follow the natural rhythms of life.
We are so surrounded by machines, that sometimes we start expecting our own lives to function like machines. We turn on the lights, and we get light. We turn the ignition, and the car starts.
So we start expecting the spiritual life to work like that too. I kneel down to pray, and I should feel God’s presence immediately. I receive Holy Communion, and I should feel strength surging through my veins.
But we are not machines. The spiritual life is LIFE. It grows and changes with the seasons. Trees experience the same seasons year after year, and they don’t get bored, they grow. Each year a tree is a little different. Each year it has more roots to drink up nutrients, more branches to bear fruit.
This is an image of life. God is not finished with us yet. The seasons of the liturgical year are one of his ways of making us grow. The seasons don’t change, the truths of our faith don’t change, but WE change, and so the seasons should affect us differently each year.
Our spiritual life is fed, strengthened, and maintained like our physical life. We don’t eat completely different food every day. We always need bread, rice, water, vegetables, protein. Our physical life needs the same nutrients day after day, year after year.
Our spiritual lives do too. And the liturgical seasons provide us with them. We all know that Christmas has become too commercialized in our society. For many, Christmas has lost its religious meaning; for many, it consists only of presents, parties and fun.
For those of us who really believe in the true message of Christmas, which we think and pray about during Advent, this commercialization can cause frustration.
But it can also be an opportunity; we can use it to our advantage. The commercialization focuses everyone’s attention, more or less, on the presents and pleasures that will be enjoyed on Christmas Day. In other words, it stimulates a natural kind of hope.
We can use this atmosphere of natural hope to stir up and nourish our supernatural, Christian hope, which is a key ingredient for citizenship in Christ’s Kingdom.
As Christians, we should be looking forward to Christ’s second coming as eagerly as everyone else looks forward to Christmas Day.
Advent and Christmas, in fact, are like dress rehearsals for history and the end of history, for our lives on earth and our entrance into heaven after death.
The pattern of joyful anticipation and busy preparation that marks the commercial interpretation of Advent can serve us well, if we use it to reinforce the joyful SPIRITUAL anticipation and the busy SPIRITUAL preparation of our hearts for a deeper encounter with Jesus Christ.
Right now we experience a very intense Advent, because in a few moments, when I speak the words of consecration, Christ will come into our midst: God will transform some very material and ordinary bread and wine into Christ’s own body and blood, in order to give us spiritual nourishment.
This Advent, counting on God’s help, let’s do the same thing with the material and unexciting commercialization that’s all around us: instead of complaining about it, let’s transform it, let’s infuse it with spiritual meaning.