Advent is here. Again.
You might ask, “Why do we need Advent again? Why do we have to keep doing this over and over again?” Jesus already came – why do we need to prepare for His coming each year?
A song we sometimes sing in Mass during the Advent season (and at other times) – God of Day and God of Darkness – helps answer that question. Jesus came – He walked on this earth, he died and he rose, but
Still the nations curse the darkness,
Still the rich oppress the poor;
Still the earth is bruised and broken
By the ones who still want more.
Advent is here again because we desperately need it. Our world desperately needs it.
We need this period of waiting and preparing. Unlike those waiting for the birth of Jesus over two thousand years ago, for us the outcome of Advent is not a surprise. We go into Advent knowing the plot – we know Jesus Christ will be born. Indeed, we know the whole plot – we know that God will become human, live among us, die and then rise. So we wait each year for something we know is coming – the coming of Christmas, and our recelebration of the birth of Christ and all that we know follows from that.
But we don’t just wait. We prepare ourselves. Advent offers us a chance to assess our spiritual condition, to be sure we are ready to welcome Christ into our hearts and homes. It allows us to deepen our acceptance of God’s working through us to prepare for Christ’s reign.
And so as we begin Advent, we might reflect on: What will I do during this Advent to give reality to the rule of Immanuel? How will I help birth Christ into the world?
As we approach the end of the liturgical year, we begin to hear in our Gospels (as we do every year at this time) Jesus’ teachings about the end time.
Some of the descriptions sound a bit scary; in today’s Gospel we hear “In those days after that tribulation the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.”
The readings, however, are not meant to scare us. Rather, they are intended to remind us that this world is not our final home and to encourage us to prepare ourselves for eternal life with God.
In that vein, I’ve quoted before some words of Archbishop Charles Chaput on this subject. Here is what he encourages during these days that we approach the end of the liturgical year:
But we’d do well to remember that while our time in this world is brief, our lives do have eternal consequences. Our choices and actions here matter. They fashion us into the kind of persons able to be happy with God forever, or unable to bear his presence. In Catholic thought, heaven and hell are not necessarily “places” any more than eternity is an endless amount of “time.” These concepts help us to imagine what lies outside our experience, but they’re human words with human meanings. All we really know about heaven and hell – and it’s more than enough – is that heaven will be our conscious, unending, joyful union with God and all others who love him; and that hell will be the terrible pain of rejecting God, forever, because we cannot bear his love.
As Jesus says in today’s Gospel, “But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Nonetheless, we do know that it is coming. So we would do well to heed the encouragement of today’s readings.