Readings: Jeremiah 33:14-16; Psalm 25; 1 Thessalonians
3:12-4:2; Luke 21:25-28, 34-36
THEME OF THE READINGS
Today the season of Advent begins, a journey of spiritual
renewal in preparation for Christmas. The liturgy rings out with
the voices of the prophets, who proclaim the Messiah, asking
for conversion of heart and for prayer (First Feading).
John the Baptist, the
last and greatest of them, cries out: "Prepare the way
of the Lord!" (Gospel), because he "will come to visit
his people in peace." Preparing for his birth means reawakening
the hope of peace in ourselves. This peace corresponds not
just to our desire for temporal tranquility and security, but
also to the deepest longings of the human heart: intimate
friendship with God and a sure path to reach him.
The essence of this friendship is love.
Christ´s coming into the world of man –
into our world and our lives – must be more
than an isolated memory or a momentary celebration. The worthy
celebration of Christmas requires purification and growth in the theological
virtues of faith, hope and love. These virtues provide the
framework for Christian life and find their origin in the
mystery of Christ, especially his Incarnation and birth.
Our faith, hope and love are
challenged and nurtured in the most profound of ways throughout
the year when we let the full force of the
Christmas mystery impact us deeply and touch every aspect of
life. Christ´s coming at Christmas is more than an event
of the distant past. The Church speaks traditionally of three
comings that refer, in a certain sense, to each dimension
of our temporality and to each of the theological virtues:
his coming in the past, especially through the Paschal Mystery,
is the very content of our faith; his coming in
the present, made real through the life of grace, is
the source of love in us; and his coming in
the future, at the hour of our death and ultimately
at final judgment, is the object of our hope.
Only when faith, hope and
love are purified and deepened is man made truly secure
in God and before God. Only then does he possess
peace and project it in human society. The Gospel powerfully
illustrates this point. We are presented with a contrasting spectacle:
those who "die of fright" because the final tribulations signal
the destruction of everything on which they had based their
security, and those who "stand erect" with raised heads because
this apparent catastrophe is actually the sign of their redemption
and vindication. Both types of people live and suffer the
same tribulations, but they face them in different ways and
derive different outcomes.
Since our Christian
vocation flows from the mystery of the Incarnation, Advent is
the perfect season to explore its greatness and transcendence. Out
of love, God decides to save man by becoming one
of us. Going even further, he commits himself to serving
man. "Being God, he emptied himself, becoming a slave like
us in all things except sin." What madness of love!
That was the only way he could suffer, offer himself
in sacrifice and redeem man: "Father, you have given me
a body made for sacrifice; here it is, I have
come to do your will."
Contemplating this, who is not going to fall in
love with Christ, who will not passionately give himself to
him, spending his own life, just as Christ did, in
the hard but sublime task of Redemption, each according to
their own state and situation? And the path for doing
so is the same, no matter how we are called
to serve: to sacrifice yourself by depending totally and absolutely
on God´s will. Like Christ, we must always be ready
and willing to do God´s will.
To achieve this, we must
develop the ability to reflect deeply on Christ´s life and
serenely contemplate it. We also need an authentic interior life
to keep us in communication with our Lord. Advent is
a privileged time to develop the spiritual life, but there
are also many pitfalls to be overcome. The penitential aspect
of Advent is almost completely lost in today´s post-Christian, consumer-driven
society. The thought of Advent often brings to mind a
whirlwind of Christmas parties, decorations and getting ready for "Santa."
And in the midst of all this we often forget
the very reason for these externals: Christ the Lord is
coming! If we do not prepare ourselves spiritually for his
arrival, we could make the same mistake as the people
in Bethlehem who not only missed his coming, but actually
a wonderful thing it would be if Catholics today, through
their example, were to bring back to Advent its original
meaning as a time of prayer, purification, joyful expectation and
wonder. How much we have to learn from those ancient
traditions of restraint with regard to the external manifestations of
the season until shortly before Christmas, with the bulk of
the celebrations occurring in the eight-day period afterwards, the octave!
We would reclaim the spiritual meaning of this season and
not let it be manipulated or emptied of its true
meaning by those who see Christmas only as an opportunity
to sell things nobody really needs.