• Is 63:16b-17, 19b; 64:2-7
• Ps 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19
• 1 Cor 1:3-9
• Mk 13:33-37
When the Son of God came the first time, St. Augustine stated in a sermon, “he came in obscurity, it was to be judged. When he comes openly it will be to judge.” This observation is a helpful (and challenging!) bridge between last week’s Gospel reading—the parable of the sheep and the goats—and today’s Gospel reading, proclaimed on this, the first day of the liturgical year.
“Advent” comes from the Latin word adventus, which in turn is a translation of the Greek word, parousia. Both words indicate a coming or arrival and a presence. Advent focuses simultaneously on the first and second comings of Christ, and his presence with us now, especially in the blessed sacrament of the Eucharist. The parousia—sometimes called the second coming of Christ—will be realized fully at the end of time, but has already been initiated by the Incarnation, which revealed the glory of God among men (cf., Jn 1:14).
While some Christians fixate upon the return of Christ to the point that little else matters, Catholics should—especially during Advent—gaze upon and receive the Eucharist, knowing that it is why anything matters at all. In doing so, we proclaim his coming, anticipating the culmination of time and history.
“By gazing on the risen Christ,” wrote Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, in Eschatology, his book on death and eternal life, “Christianity knew that a most significant coming had already taken place. It no longer proclaimed a pure theology of hope, living from mere expectation of the future, but pointed to a ‘now’ in which the promise had already become present. Such a present was, of course, itself hope, for it bears the future within itself.” (Eschatology, 44-45).
The Son of God transcends past, present, and future. Yet he became man, entering into time and history in the most stunning and unexpected way: in the darkness of a cave. Nearing the end of his earthly ministry, facing death, he exhorted his disciples, “Be watchful! Be alert!” Thus he emphasized that the second coming would also be unexpected and sudden.
These exhortations to vigilance, although mysterious, helped the early Christian to comprehend the deeper meaning of the destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70. They could see that the Church is the new temple, for the Church is the mystical body of Christ. “When he announces its destruction,” the Catechism explains, “it is as a manifestation of his own execution and of the entry into a new age in the history of salvation, when his Body would be the definitive Temple” (par. 593).
Our Lord first came as a humble babe, hidden in a manger, surrounded by family and the shepherds who responded to the glorious news given by angels. He now comes to us in humility, hidden under the form of bread and wine, within the household of God, giving himself to his sheep—those who have responded to the saving message of the Gospel. This gift of the Son is why we can call God our Father. It is also why we acknowledge, as did the prophet Isaiah, our desperate need to be molded and shaped by the loving hands of the Creator: “Yet, O LORD, you are our father; we are the clay and you the potter: we are all the work of your hands.”
Jesus Christ will one day come in again in power and glory, to judge the living and the dead. Every man will face judgment; every deed will be revealed. “Even now,” St. Augustine told his flock, the Savior “does not keep silent, if there is anyone to listen. But it says he will not keep silent then”—at the final judgment—“because his voice will be acknowledged even by those who despise it.”
Those who despise and ignore the words of Christ are asleep, cocooned in spiritual slumber and sloth. Those who are alert and watch are aware of the Lord’s presence. They long for his coming. They place their hope in the Lord. Such is the essence of Advent.
(This "Opening the Word" column originally appeared in the November 30, 2008, edition of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper.)