COME, LET US WALK IN THE LIGHT OF THE LORD!
Today we begin a new Liturgical Year and indeed, it is the First Sunday of Advent. Here we go again! Another Liturgical Year has ebbed away. The Liturgical Year C of St. Luke has come full circle and a new one, viz. Liturgical Year A of St. Matthew is upon us. This means that throughout this year, we will be reading through the Gospel of St. Matthew, though at times we will also be reading some of St. John’s Gospel, which is interspersed in all three Liturgical Years, as St. John does not have a year to himself.
The Various Comings of Christ
Now, in the general literal sense, the word ‘advent’ means ‘coming’ but in the Christian Liturgical sense it specifically implies to ‘the coming of Christ.’ So specifically therefore, with the start of Advent today, we begin the period of expectation and waiting for the coming of Christ, our Savior — his birth on the first Christmas day. We celebrate the Lord’s coming to us in three ways:
1. The first coming of Jesus about 2000 years ago when he came as our Savior. This was the event long awaited for by the Jews of the Old Testament. During Advent, we relive in our own lives their experience of waiting for the Lord’s coming as our way of preparing for the anniversary of his birth, which is exciting, but also predictable.
2. The second coming is the glorious return of Jesus in future at the end of time. Risen Jesus who is now seated at the right hand of the Father will come again but this time as King and Judge of both the living and the dead. But we do not know when it will happen.
3. The third coming is situated between the first two comings. It is Jesus’ daily coming into our hearts here and now at every moment of every day in the sacraments – very specifically through the Eucharist, and therein lies a challenge for us as well as a comfort.
Thus in a general sense, the period of Advent encompasses all time viz. Past, Present & Future. So, a Christian in this sense is always a citizen of Advent. Therefore, it is not surprising that we begin the new Liturgical Year this Sunday, with the same theme of ‘the coming of Christ’, where we ended it last Sunday.
Again, we have about 4 weeks of Advent and the 4 Sundays of Advent are supposed to prepare us for the celebration of Christmas. During these four weeks therefore, the Church invites us to enter into the longing of those who first waited for the coming of the Messiah. Scripture helps us to do this through the figures of Isaiah, John the Baptist and Mary. But the holy season of Advent has an even more important preparation in mind viz. the readiness of each one of us for the Second & Final coming of Christ at the end of the world, spoken of in today’s Gospel Reading from St. Matthew. And this we do by means of our constant & active involvement through properly welcoming Christ, and receiving him in our hearts as he comes to us today in the sacraments.
A Vision of Messianic Peace
The First Reading of today from the Book of the prophet Isaiah is from very early in the prophecy of Isaiah, from whom we shall hear a great deal over the next four weeks. This one gives an account of Isaiah’s vision ‘concerning Judah and Jerusalem.’ It is a vision of messianic peace and a promise of hope.
The Lord’s ‘advent’ in salvation history is beautiful and heartening; it is an eminently hopeful and accessible event. He will enter into our world at a certain time and place. The locale of the Lord’s house will be established as the highest mountain, to which all nations shall stream. It results in an enormous pilgrimage to Jerusalem, the recasting of weapons of war into farming implements, and universal reconciliation. A reign of peace is predicted as a result of the nations’ reception of God’s instructions, walking in God’s ways, and submission to God’s judgment. It is in this light and vision that our God calls us to walk.
“O come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!” is the reading’s final invitation and it refers prophetically to the coming of the Child Jesus in Bethlehem, who is the Light of our life. That is what we may call the First Coming. This also introduces us to one of the dominant images of Advent – the difference between light and darkness. Each day now before December 21, the day gets darker and darker. At Christmas it will begin to get lighter and lighter each day. We are much in darkness now. Before Jesus came, we were a people of darkness. But with the coming of Jesus, the Incarnation, God becoming a person, we have been shown the light, and the kingdom of God.
A Final Coming
The Second Reading and the Gospel emphasise that we must prepare for that final coming of Jesus, whatever form it is going to take. The first coming of Jesus in Bethlehem is to help us prepare for this final coming.
We really need this warning. On the one hand, we do not like to think too much about how or when we will leave this world. But it is a fact. It is the one future fact of our lives of which we can be absolutely certain. There are people who are very afraid to die and who do not even want the subject raised. Today’s Scripture wants to remind us of the final purpose of our lives.
Many of us are like the people mentioned in today’s Gospel: “Before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing till the flood came and swept them all away…” These people were doing very ordinary things. Exactly the same things that we do. But they were so busy doing them that they failed to give any thought to where their lives were ultimately leading and what was the goal of that life.
They were very busy, just like us. Maybe they were very successful, maybe they made a lot of money, maybe they had wonderful marriages, had lots of exciting experiences… But, in the end, they were not ready for the most important appointment of their lives. The question is: how ready am I right now?
Maybe you think: “I don’t have to worry. I had my medical check-up the other day and the doctor said I have the heart of a teenager.” But how many teenagers end up as statistics on the death toll on our roads every year? For them, death is something which happens to other people, to old and sick people.
We sometimes think that the busier we are the better. (We even like to say, “The devil finds work for idle hands to do.”) We work for today, for tomorrow, for next month, for next year, for our future, for our children’s future… But what about our real future? Our future with God? What preparations are we making for that future?
One Taken, One Left
So the Gospel today says, “Of two men in the fields, one is taken, one is left; of two women at the millstone grinding, one is taken, one left.” This could mean that one is taken away by a natural or personal disaster (an earthquake or a heart attack) and the other left untouched. Or it could mean that God takes one away to himself and abandons the other. In either event, the basic meaning is the same. Two men, two women on the outside apparently the same, doing the same work. And yet there is an important difference between them. One is prepared and one is not.
Of course, in our daily lives we have to work, cook food, earn our living, take care of our families… but we must also prepare for the final call. That is the most basic reality of our lives. If we forget that, all our other success is actually failure. Let us remember the story of Martha and Mary. Martha was so busy about good things, about taking care of others but it was Mary who was in the right place, in touch with the centre of meaning, the Word made flesh.
And we do not know when the Lord will come. “If the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and not let his house be broken into…” And, in many ways, it is a blessing that we do not know the day nor the hour. On the one hand, if we did know, we could be filled with a terrible anxiety knowing what the final blow was going to be or, on the other hand, we would let our lives go completely to pot knowing that we could straighten everything out at the last minute. In either case, our world would become a terrible place in which to live. So it is a question of being ready for any eventuality. “Stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming…”
How Should We Prepare?
The obvious question to ask is, How are we to prepare? St Paul today in the Second Reading has some advice. “Let us give up all the things we tend to do under cover of darkness and live decently as people do in the daytime.” I guess there are dark areas in all of our lives. Things we do, things we say, things we think, the indulging of our lower and self-centred appetites; things which we would not like other people to know about because they are quite wrong. They do no good to me or to others.
Instead, we need to develop our relationship with God and with our brothers and sisters based on a caring and unconditional love for all. We need to learn how to find God, to find Jesus in every person, in every experience. We need to respect every person as the image of God. We must learn and make every effort to love our neighbours as ourselves, to love everyone just as Jesus loved us.
If, in our words and actions, our daily lives are full of the spirit of Jesus, then we have prepared. We do not need to be anxious about the future or what will happen to us. Concentrate on today, on the present hour, the present situation and respond to it in truth and love and the future will take care of itself. Then we do not have to fear no matter when Jesus makes his final call. Because we know he is going to say: “Come, my friend. I want to call you now; I want to share with you my life that never ends.” And we will respond: “Yes, Lord, I am ready. I have been waiting for you all this time.” It will be an encounter, not of strangers, but of two old friends.
THE ADVENT WREATH
TRADITION AND MEANING
For many Christians and Catholics in particular, Advent Wreaths are a favorite way to celebrate the month of December leading up to Christmas. Although Advent Wreaths are popular among Christians, many are not aware of the rich meaning and symbolism embedded in the tradition. If we the significance, we can appreciate it all the more!
DARKNESS AND LIGHT
The Advent candles readily demonstrate the strong contrast between darkness and light. In the Bible, Christ is referred to as the “Light of the World” contrasted with the darkness of sin. Human history spanned long ages before our prophesied Savior would finally make his appearance, and God’s promise to make all things new through him.
As his Advent, or “coming,” draws nearer another candle is lit, with each candle dispelling the darkness a little more. Thus, the Advent wreath helps us to spiritually contemplate the great drama of salvation history that surrounds the birth of God Incarnate who comes to redeem the human race.
SHAPE, NUMBER AND COLOR
SHAPE: The circular shape of the wreath, without beginning or end, symbolizes God’s complete and unending love for us—a love that sent his Son into the world to redeem us from the curse of sin. It also represents eternal life which becomes ours through faith in Jesus Christ.
NUMBER: The Advent Wreath traditionally holds four candles which are lit, one at a time, on each of the four Sundays of the Advent season. Each candle represents 1,000 years. Added together, the four candles symbolize the 4,000 years that humanity waited for the world’s Savior—from Adam and Eve to Jesus, whose birth was foretold in the Old Testament.
Some Advent wreath traditions also include a fifth white “Christ” candle, symbolizing purity, that is lit on Christmas Eve or Christmas day. Many circular wreaths can incorporate a white candle by adding a pillar candle to the wreath center.
COLOR: Violet is a liturgical color that is used to signify a time of prayer, penance, and sacrifice and is used during Advent and Lent. Advent, also called “little Lent,” is the season where we spiritually wait in our “darkness” with hopeful expectation for our promised redemption, just as the whole world did before Christ’s birth, and just as the whole world does now as we eagerly await his promised return.
THE FOUR WEEKS OF ADVENT
During the first two weeks of Advent we light the first two purple candles. The Third Sunday of Advent is called Gaudete (Rejoice) Sunday. On this day we celebrate that our waiting for the birth of Jesus on Christmas day is almost over. Rose is a liturgical color that is used to signify joy, so we light the single pink candle on the third Sunday of Advent.
Then on the fourth Sunday of Advent, the final purple candle is lit to mark the final week of prayer and penance as we wait expectantly for the soon-coming birth of the King of Kings.
Traditionally, each of the four Advent candles have a deeper meaning which is depicted in the lovely Four Weeks of Advent Wreath:
· The 1st Sunday of Advent symbolizes Hope with the “Prophet’s Candle” reminding us that Jesus is coming.
· The 2nd Sunday of Advent symbolizes Faith with the “Bethlehem Candle” reminding us of Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem.
· The 3rd Sunday of Advent symbolizes Joy with the “Shepherd’s Candle” reminding us of the Joy the world experienced at the coming birth of Jesus.
· The 4th Sunday of Advent symbolizes Peace with the “Angel’s Candle” reminding us of the message of the angels: “Peace on Earth, Good Will Toward Men.”
ENHANCE YOUR WREATH WITH MORE SYMBOLISM
You can festively decorate your Advent Wreath with other natural materials that traditionally carry their own Christian symbolism. The use of evergreens reminds us of our eternal life with Christ; pointy holly leaves and berries represents the crown of thorns from the Passion of Jesus and his Precious Blood; and pine cones symbolize Christ’s Resurrection.
THE BLESSING OF THE ADVENT WREATH
The Advent Wreath tradition also involves an Advent wreath blessing. The wreath is blessed at the beginning of Advent in a special ceremony, so that throughout the whole four weeks you or your family will be drawn into deeper conversion to Christ through its symbolism and meaning.
The special Advent blessing is a wonderful way to start of the Advent season with a sense of meaning and purpose in anticipation of the many graces given during this liturgical season.
Having and blessing the Advent wreath in your home, and using it to focus your prayer and mediation on welcoming Christ Himself into your heart, is a great way to prepare for the true meaning of Christmas.
Fr. Gaspar Fernandes, OFM Cap.