A Reflection for the 1st Sunday of Advent in Year B, by Fr Daniel Weatherley.
How many times over the past weeks or months have we heard or said ourselves ‘Roll on, 2021’?! Well, this Sunday marks a new year and a new start for the Church and for ourselves.
The Liturgical year moves onwards in a three-yearly cycle, whereby the Sunday Gospel comes from either Matthew (Year A), Mark (Year B) or Luke (Year C). However, Christians do not live in an endless round of cycles, despite the fact that we celebrate each year the same great Saving Mysteries of Salvation. We celebrate and live-out the Saving Mysteries because in them lies the possibility of our eternal salvation, but the life of the Church is in fact oriented in a very different way. We live in commemoration of what God has already accomplished for us in Jesus Christ, but we live also in anticipation of Jesus’ return in glory – the ‘Second Coming’. And so the meaning of the holy season of Advent is two-fold. It is to prepare once more to commemorate worthily and wholeheartedly the First Coming of our Saviour at Bethlehem, but equally it is to prepare for and anticipate the great and awesome day of His Second Coming, when all creation will stop and behold Him, awaiting His just judgement and the establishment of the new and eternal heavens and earth. After all, ‘Advent’ means not ‘He has come’, but ‘He is coming’…
The Church’s focus during the first two weeks of Advent, therefore, is on the second coming of Christ, which is intricately linked with his first coming at that first Christmas. With good reason we usually associate Christ’s second coming with a sense of fear. The Fathers of the Church are keen to point out, however, the distinction between the holy fear (‘awe’) which is one of the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit, and a negative fear, for which there is no room in the heart of the believer, cast out as it is by the perfect love of Christ.
St. Augustine of Hippo wrote, ‘Let us not resist his first coming, so that we may not dread the second.’ In other words, we are to allow the mystery of the Incarnation – of God-made-Man – to change us. We become prepared for His Second Coming in glory by allowing the Mystery of Jesus, Emmanuel, to change us now, by the transforming power of grace which His Life, Death and Resurrection has made possible.
Augustine goes on to say, ‘He has come the first time, and he will come again to judge the earth; he will find those rejoicing who believed in his first coming.’ Asking himself how then the believer is to live in such a way as to be prepared, Augustine proposes that, ‘the Christian ought to use the world, not become its slave. And what does this mean? It means having, as though not having.’ In other words, to live in the freedom of detachment from earthly, temporary things.
This past year has seen widespread suffering; the death of loved ones, the economic, social and personal consequences of social distancing and other restrictions, and so much more. But whenever God permits suffering He also provides superabundance of grace, so that by our returning to our merciful Creator and Father He may ‘turn all things to our good’ in Christ (Romans 8). As so much which was familiar has been stripped from us, we are being invited like never before to live in radical dependence upon God and trust in His promises.
Seven centuries before the birth of Jesus the prophet Isaiah famously implored the Almighty ‘Oh, that you would tear the heavens open and come down!’ Living now in the era of grace, it is we who need to allow our minds and hearts to be ‘torn open’ and lifted up in response to Christ’s invitation to follow Him.
We become detached from the world so that we might be attached to God. And that means to be emptied of anything and everything which ‘resists his coming’, His making His home, in our own flesh. To anticipate the Day of Judgement without fear means to give myself over entirely to God by accepting Jesus Christ without reserve here and now, and to strive daily in my thoughts, words and behaviour to live as He would have me live, as the Holy Spirit inspires me to live. Through the graces poured out to us in the holy Sacraments of the Church, and supremely the Holy Eucharist and Confession, we can hope to attain an active purity of mind, heart and body which not only takes away a negative fear of His second coming, but gives birth to a longing for His coming.
God became Man in Jesus Christ that we might live in intimate union with Him. To live Advent well is to drop all those things which resist that union and to embrace the One who longs to fill us with lasting, heavenly gifts and His own glorious presence. No earthly restrictions can prevent this.
Fr Daniel Weatherley