We stand at the mid-point of Advent – Gaudete Sunday. The “rose color” vestment of this Sunday reminds us that the liturgical season of Advent is nearly completed and we move on through the rest of the liturgical year with the celebration of Christmas. But wait; let’s not move too quickly away from Advent.
While it is a short season and it is usually cluttered with the secular pandering toward “holidays,” Advent is most significant for us as a people who wait. We wait beyond four weeks – we’ve waited for almost 2,000 years; and we expect to wait for as long as it takes.
Advent, spiritual writers and teachers remind us, is a great season of preparation for the coming of Christ. St. Bernard of Clairvaux writes about the three comings of Christ. This is, of course, one of the mainstays of Advent spiritual reading, so it offers us a bit of promise in these days. The mysterious and mystical ways of God are always unknown to us and surprising when they come to our consciousness. God’s ways are not our ways and it is, therefore, necessary – as the Blessed Mother did – to ponder them in our hearts.
The first coming, of course, involves the Blessed Mother intimately. She bears in her body the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. Mother Mary provides his human body through the great mystery of the Incarnation. We have just celebrated her Immaculate Conception, the divine privilege of being conceived in the womb of her mother, St. Anne, without original sin; the first human being to participate in the fullness of life that would come from her Divine Son’s Paschal Mystery.
That first coming is the essence of our Christmas celebration. The Word made Flesh is visible for all the world, all the ages, and all human history to see, study, evaluate and emulate.
The third coming will likewise be a visible encounter. Jesus will come again at the end of time as the judge of all creation. He has redeemed it and he will separate the good from the evil, presenting the good and all redeemed creation to his Father, and pronouncing in turn, the sentence of damnation for those who have chosen it.
These two comings of Christ are clear and visible. There will be no mistaking his presence. The second coming of the three is a bit more mystical and faith-filled. The second coming is the presence of Christ who “with us,” the One who is with us “until the end of time.” (Mt 28:20)
The spiritual presence of the Risen Christ in our midst, especially in the Most Blessed Sacrament, is certainly a mystery and a reality that requires our daily attention. This “second coming” reveals Jesus as the Companion along the journey between two points: the first, his coming as the Savior in our flesh at Christmas, the second, his coming again in glory at the end of time.
Three comings of Christ focus our attention on the life of grace and the sublime attentiveness of God for his creation. St. Paul reminds us that we walk by faith and not by sight. (2 Cor 5:7) The gift of grace illuminates our hearts and souls. The sound teaching of Jesus, especially concerning our care and service for our brothers and sisters (Mt 25: 31ff.), guides our way along the journey of life. We do not walk alone, but it is Jesus who is with us, and his church that provides the sacramental and spiritual structure that gives meaning to the daily aspects of human life.
During the season of Advent, all channels of human knowledge and understanding, human emotion and sentiment, about God come to a glorious nexus that allows for the mind and heart to contemplate all three comings of Christ in one single liturgical season. The omnipresence of God can be savored and explored so as to build up our genuine awareness of God’s creation and continued sanctification of the human race.
We say, with Scripture, “Come, Lord, Jesus!” We say this with certainty of faith, knowing that he has come in history. We say this with certainty of faith, knowing that he is with us, in and through his church, inspiring true faith, hope and love. We say this with certainty of faith, knowing that Christ will come again in glory at the end of time.
“The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come.’ And let everyone who hears say, ‘Come.’ The one who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev 22: 17, 20)