This year, with crisis boiling over and the weakness of clerical and hierarchical leadership daily on unseemly and discouraging display: with Christians around the world facing real, violent, and sometimes bloody persecution; with amity and concord in our social transactions so seemingly diminished; it is perhaps more difficult than it has been in recent memory to enter into what we often hear told is, or ought to be, the “spirit of the season”.
We are into the home stretch. Three of four Sundays of Advent have come and gone. We have entered the Christmas novena. For what, exactly, are we waiting? It’s easy to say, “Christmas,” and it’s not wrong, as far as it goes. To leave it at that, however, is insufficient. Though it is often only dimly visible to us, and sometimes lost entirely, the season of Advent opens the liturgical year and establishes the course of our pilgrimage anew, in an unmistakably eschatological key and register.
Said simply: in Advent, we are preparing for the Second Coming — the end of the world — at least as much as we are for the commemoration of Our Lord’s Nativity. Closely adapted from others I shared some years ago, this reflection seeks to bring the matter into closer and manageable focus.
Advent concludes with the celebration of Christmas, it is true: but all through this season of expectation the Church reminds us that we are awaiting the Second Coming of Him, who was born in Bethlehem twenty centuries ago. She tells us that, as quiet as His first coming was in a manger, so great and glorious shall be His coming this second time, that it shall break the Earth.
Advent is a privileged season, in which the Church prayerfully reflects and longingly sighs for her Spouse, who is the Christ, the Glorious King, coming soon to judge the world.
When Our Lord comes again in judgment — and He is coming, and with Him a great and terrible wrath — His coming will break the world: it will shatter the universe and all that is in it, into pebbles:
Dies irae, dies illa,
solvet saeculum in favilla,
teste David cum Sibylla.
[That day of wrath, that dreadful day,
shall heaven and earth in ashes lay,
as David and the Sybil say.]
It will not be His judgment, however, which blasts creation into dust; it will be His glory; as quiet and meek as was His first coming into the world, in a hovel, in a manger, in a hamlet, so great will be the glory of His second coming, that the world shall break at it. Creation shall not have strength to withstand the coming into it of its Creator a second time, and all shall be undone.
This is no hyperbole, but mere fact, a plain and even prosaic statement of what the cognition of faith tells us must be:
Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken. – Isaiah 40:4-5
That the Church in Advent and at all times should wait in joyful hope for the coming of her Savior, may strike even the Christian of practiced devotion as counter-intuitive. Nevertheless, here she is doing penance and making acts of reparation for past sins — her members’, and the sins of the world. Here we are.
We are wont to think of joy as a transitory state of powerfully pleasant emotional elation. It is not so: if it were, then we could be no more called to joy than we are to thirst. Joy is a spiritual aptitude, to which the grace of God alone can raise us even from the midst of our brokenness.
The old Christian artists portray the saints who are martyrs in Heaven with the marks of their martyrdom: this tells me — certainly in this week that opened with “Gaudete!” Sunday — that the joy to which we are called is neither a replacement nor a balm for suffering, but its perfect ennobling. Indeed, the act of ennobling is sometimes called a “creation” — as a monarch creates peers or a Pope creates cardinals (cf. Rev. 21:1-5).
Throughout the season of Advent, the Church in her official public worship proclaims Christ the Lord of creation, and implores the protection of His merciful divinity from the insults of our old enemy, Satan, the Prince of Darkness, who, sensing that the time of his reign is nearing its end, increases his efforts to ensnare and enslave the children of God.
Advent is therefore a season of war: it is a season of spiritual strife between the victorious forces of God, and the defeated though active and not yet utterly vanquished forces of the devil and his ranks of rebel angels.
In this preternatural struggle, the People of God cry out for deliverance with increasing intensity, and they do so in the voice, and with the prayers of ancient Israel, their elders in the faith, from whom the world first learned true religion.
The final seven days of Advent hear proclaimed the ancient O antiphons – the cry of the heart of the People of God: O Sapientia! O Adonai! O Radix Jesse! O Clavis David! O Oriens! O Rex Gentium! O Emmanuel!
We sigh in longing, so Mother Church teaches us, as a bride sighs for her bridegroom, we desire Him, and would have Him, and all of Him, and none but Him, and so great is our desire – the desire of the Church – that we would gladly trade the world and all that is in it for His kiss.
Ecce véniet Dóminus, princeps regum terræ; beáti qui paráti sunt occúrrere illi.
[Behold, the Lord cometh, the Prince of the Kings of the earth: blessed are they that are ready to go forth to meet him.]
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