The tragic incident at the holiday parade in Waukesha on Nov. 21 that resulted in the death of several people and injuries to many more has left the community shocked and traumatized. This senseless act caused so many people immeasurable pain, suffering and grief.
Nevertheless, in the midst of this tragedy, so many people stepped up to do what they could do to help. First responders and medical personnel acted quickly to save lives. With a show of solidarity with those suffering, people of good will responded with prayer, support, monetary gifts, blood donations, counseling and other services. In the midst of these terrible circumstances, the gestures of care and compassion created a sense of hope.
As Christians, we know that hope is essential for our existence. Hope is the reason we get out of bed in the morning, and hope keeps us motivated as we move forward into the future. We are now in the great season of hope — the Advent season — the four-week period leading up to Christmas. “Advent,” derived from the Latin word “adventus,” means “coming” or “arrival.”
Advent is, of course, a time to prepare for the great celebration of the mystery of the Incarnation of Jesus, the Nativity of the Lord. At Christmas, we celebrate the First Coming of the Son of God, born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem. True God and true man, Jesus was born into our human condition to bring us life and light.
We also know that there is another dimension to this season. Advent is a time to remember that we must constantly prepare ourselves for the Second Coming of Christ, the fulfillment of our hopes and dreams. The Christian life is one of vigilance and watchfulness for the coming of Christ into our lives.
In one sense, the Second Coming of Christ refers to the end of the ages, when Christ will come to bring all things to completion. The Second Letter of St. Peter speaks about this waiting for the coming of Christ in this way: “… according to his promise we await new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, since you await these things, be eager to be found without spot or blemish before him, at peace.” (2Peter 3:13-14)
St. Paul exhorts the faithful to be joyful, hopeful and prayerful waiting for the coming of Christ: “The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:5b-7)
The Gospels urge us to stay alert as we await the coming of the Lord: “Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come.” (Mark 13:33) “Be vigilant at all times.” (Luke 21:36a) The Gospels warn us not to let that moment catch us off guard, but rather to be ready to receive the Lord when he comes.
While the coming of Christ refers to the end of the ages, it can also refer to the many ways in which Christ comes into our lives in the here and now. He comes into our lives whenever we listen to the Word of God, take it to heart and put it into practice. He comes into our lives in a special way in the sacramental life of the Church, especially the celebration of the Eucharist, when we as a Christian community enter into communion with him, sharing in his Body and Blood, and strengthening our bond of love with one another. Christ comes into our lives when we engage in prayer, whether meditating on Sacred Scripture, sitting in silence before the Blessed Sacrament, praying the rosary, reciting devotional prayers or just pouring out our hearts to God.
Another way in which Christ comes into our lives is in our encounter with other people. The Gospels invite us to see and experience Christ in our interaction with the “least” of his brothers and sisters – the hungry, the thirsty, the strangers, the sick and the prisoners. What we do for them we do for Christ. (Matthew 21:31-46) I believe, as well, that our expressions of mercy, charity and compassion toward those wounded and traumatized by tragic events are occasions of encounter with Christ.
Advent reminds us of the need to be alert to the many ways in which Christ makes his presence known to us. To be aware of his presence requires watchfulness and attentiveness to the ways in which he touches our lives, in Word, in Sacrament and in our encounter with other people, especially those most in need. During this Advent season, let us do what we can to be of aid and support to those affected by tragedy that we might be for them signs of healing and hope. Let us be ready to receive and embrace Christ wherever he makes himself known.