We began another Advent season this past Sunday, which also marked the beginning of the church’s liturgical year.
Advent has never had the same spiritual drawing power as its sister season of Lent. What both have in common is that they are periods of preparation for great feasts: Christmas and Easter, respectively.
When I went onto my Web site recently, I was surprised to discover that, in all of the more than 40 years of this column’s existence, there have been only three Advent meditations — all during the 1990s.
In the hope that there might be a single insight that can enrich the reader’s preparation for the feast of the Nativity, I am reproducing here a few lines from each of those three columns.
In 1999 I wrote: “This ‘waiting’ for the coming of Christ has been at the core of Christian faith and hope from the beginning. … For the Christian, every new year is a year in which the Holy Spirit renews us in the grace of Christ and prepares us for his Second Coming, when the world will be brought to perfection.
“In the meantime, the Christian walks with the assurance of faith that ‘whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold new things have come’ (2 Corinthians 5:17).
“Advent, in 1999 or in any other year, directs us to those ‘new things’ that are to come.”
The Advent meditation for 1997 concluded in this fashion: “Advent has to do, literally, with a ‘coming toward’ (adveniens, in the Latin). Advent reminds us that we are ‘coming toward’ a richer and fuller future, made possible by the Creator of us all. (‘Do not be afraid any longer … for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom.’)
“On the other hand, the final outpouring of justice and truth, mercy and forgiveness, is also ‘coming toward’ us, from God’s side to our own. Our posture, therefore, should be one of hopeful expectation.
“Even as we hope and pray for the blessings of that Kingdom, we are called to share what we have, however meager our resources, with those in even greater need, and to work for justice for others, whatever the personal cost.
“The message of Advent is that the blessings of the Kingdom will ‘come toward’ us only to the extent that we ‘come toward’ those most in need of our love and support.”
Finally, in 1993, I reminded readers that Advent prepares us for the threefold coming of Christ: at Christmas, at the end of history and into our lives here and now.
We need no special reminder of the coming of Christmas. We are given ample “advance warning” in commercial advertising, in seasonal music on radio and television, and in the multiple lights and decorations that surround us, even before Thanksgiving.
We believe in the second coming, but only notionally because we have no analog in our ordinary human experience by which to imagine or understand it.
The coming of Christ into our present, daily lives is the most spiritually meaningful of the three. Vatican II’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy points out that, when we gather for the Eucharist, Christ is already present in the worshipping community, in the Word that is proclaimed, in the ministers and uniquely in the sacrament of holy Communion (n. 7).
“What is perhaps less easy to grasp is how Christ comes to us, in the present, apart from the Eucharist … through the stable door of ordinary human experience.”
Advent is a time for redirecting the expectation of the Lord’s coming — away from “out there” to “right here.”
“Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you?” (Matthew 25:37).
Father McBrien is a professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame.