Advent is primarily a period of hope. It is a time of expectation that the Lord’s promise of the Messiah, the just shoot of the house of David, will arrive. Advent offers special opportunity to reflect deeper on the grace of God and its impact on our relationship with God and with one another. The consistent message during this time is, “The kingdom is near.” What is this kingdom other than God’s abounding love, the grace of holiness which enables us to embrace Jesus. And how can we embrace this kingdom? It is to see Advent as a unique opportunity. Cardinal O’Connor shared wonderful words of exhortation from his confessor sometime after his confession. The Cardinal’s confessor, an elderly priest, says to him, “Now is a moment of grace. Something big is about to happen; something very big. And it’s going to happen to you. We are about to begin Advent. God has become incarnate in the human condition, for you, personally for you. You have reasons for new and wonderful hope” (Magnificat, Vol.23, No.9,p.370). I consider these words helpful for all of us, “Something big is about to happen for you.”
In the gospel, Jesus warns his disciples about impending disaster that will befall the world, the sun, moon, and stars to be shaken. He cautions that people will be caught up in fears about these happenings but will usher in the Son of Man in his glory. Jesus reassures his disciples, “But when these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.” Here is an invitation to the love of God, our Father. First, Jesus issues a warning, but at the same time, distinguishes his followers for their fidelity to the gospel. Jesus calls us to stand erect and to be vigilant in prayer.
Advent is a time of waiting and penance like Lent. Advent anticipates birth while Lent anticipates resurrection, which is the cycle of our lives. Priests wear purple as a penitential color and as images of great anticipation. In Advent, we are preparing for the first as well as the final coming of Christ. We are called to prayer and fasting during Advent just like we are during Lent. But what does that mean for us, practically speaking? How do we prepare ourselves?
In the gospel, Luke refers to Jesus as the Son of Man, not the Son of God. Though he’s both, the reminder that Jesus is the Son of Man recalls our dignity and high calling as human beings. Only humans can praise, worship and glorify God. We are made of body and soul which makes us like God. God left his throne on high and became a man. This gives us an idea of the great dignity that we are called to. He didn’t become a dog or a cat or a whale. He didn’t even become an angel, worthy as they are. Why is this important to understand? Because, as children of God, everything changes. We begin to see with the eyes of God.
Taking this time during advent to pray, fast and give alms (like Lent) brings into focus the true meaning of the Son of Man in our lives. We are able to hope in the things both seen and unseen because we begin to know that God is trustworthy. We begin to understand on a much deeper level that God descended into the manger to open the gates of heaven and that He will return in glory just as He promised he would do. He will always fulfill His promises.
In the midst of the terror of the second coming, Jesus tells his apostles to “stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.” Those who remain close to God have nothing to fear in this life or the next, not at birth and not even at death, since both should be moments of anticipation. They know the One coming on the clouds very well and are not afraid of Him. He comes as a Savior, friend and brother, not as a terrible judge. Spend this Advent in prayer before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. Try to attend weekday mass a few times and go to confession. Unburden yourself of the weight of sin in your life. And no matter what problems come at you, you will remain at peace because you will understand better the great dignity to which you are called, the place you are ultimately going to, and the One who makes you happy. This is where you will find the peace of Christmas.
One familiar message for Advent is, “Be watchful! Be alert!” Believers are summoned to a vigilance that goes beyond mere physical observation, rather a committed watch that flows from the heart. Christ keeps saying to us, “You do not know when the time will come. Whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning” (Matt. 13:36). The signs of this end will be marked by persecutions. Importantly, something big is going to happen, namely, the coming of the Son of Man. This is huge. It is pertinent that we stay vigilant and keep constant watch because it is the will of Christ that we be saved. We cannot achieve salvation through being drunk or by wasting our time in anxious worry about worldly things.
The truth is that God’s grace is in our hearts, but we must feel it. His grace enables us to cooperate with him. In the Old Testament, the prophet Isaiah used the image of the potter and the clay to describe how much work God does on us when he says, “Yet, O Lord, you are our father; we are the clay and you the potter; we are all the work of your hands” (Is. 64:7). We must allow the potter to get us to the desired shape distorted by sin. Sin makes us uncooperative of God’s intention for us, to not hear the warning signs whereas grace keeps us out of the entrapment of sin and human brokenness. Grace enables us to be vigilant, to aspire towards good deeds. Grace opens us to listen to Christ as he says, “What I say to you, I say to all: Watch!” Grace enables us to stand erect. That’s how the saints lived their lives amid trials and temptations, crosses and sufferings. They lived in anticipation of the Son of Man.
Let’s start off our Advent by hearing the words of Christ which says, “COME!” Jesus wants you to raise your head high and be ready for him. Perhaps each of us can reflect on these words from the old priest to Cardinal O’Connor, “Now is a moment of grace. Something big is about to happen; something very big. And it’s going to happen to you.” It’s now. It’s happening. And it’s happening for you. The gospel singer, Paul Baloche once sang, “Open the eyes of my heart, Lord. I want to see you.” You can respond to the invitation from Jesus by asking him to open the eyes of your heart this Advent and let you see him. If I may ask you, when was the last time you really saw him? Are you burdened by sins that you lack the capacity to see him? Have you become so anxious that you are not able to see this moment of grace? What is preventing you from taking advantage of this big thing happening for you?
My two challenges for your Advent are these: Prayer and Confession! Something big is about to happen for you.
Readings: 1st- Jer. 33:14-16; 2nd- 1 Thes. 3:12-4:2; Gospel- Lk. 21:25-28, 34-36