1st Sunday in Advent
The Son of Man is Coming (Mt 24:44)
One of the advent hymns that I like most is:
We long to see thee so!
To see Thee newly-born.
We long for Christmas morn.
The sands of time run slow.
I like this hymn particularly because it arouses in me the nostalgia for homecoming. As a young boy studying in boarding schools this song reminded me of the joyful time of going back home for Christmas. I remember how the sands of time would run so slow, especially just before Christmas. However, in the past years, especially as a priest being busy during Christmas, unwrapping Christmas of its nostalgic feelings I have also begun to appreciate its spiritual depth. I am not in anyway playing down the importance of the sentimental aspects of Christmas – we have a reason to celebrate it even in the material sense because of the very spiritual depth of Christmas. For at Christmas we celebrate the “Coming of Jesus.”
Right from the fourth century Christians have had this special time of preparation towards Christmas, and they called it, adventus. In Latin, it simply means, ‘coming’. Like the season of Lent (before Easter) traditionally Advent also was observed as a time of fasting and prayer (before Christmas). That is why, much like the season of Lent, the priest wears violet during liturgical celebrations, and in some part of the world even weddings are not officiated in church during this season.
Even as we begin the material preparations for the social celebration of Christmas, the liturgical celebrations of these weeks invite us to prepare ourselves for the coming of Jesus. But what does coming of Christ Jesus mean?
The coming of Christ can be understood in three ways – so to say, with the three tense markers – Jesus came; Jesus comes; and Christ will come again.
The first coming of Jesus is plain enough. It refers to the historical coming of the Second Person of the Trinity 2000 years ago, as Jesus of Nazareth. We call this, the Mystery of Incarnation. We also hopefully await the coming of Christ in glory at the end of times. This is referred to as the Second Coming. This is one of the core beliefs of Christianity, and strongly alluded to in the New Testament. The prayers in the Eucharistic Celebration constantly remind us of both these comings. In the Creed we assert our faith in these two comings of Christ.
But there is still the third meaning. The coming of Jesus is not just a dead past in memory, nor is it a mere imagination of the future. By the power of the Spirit of the Risen Lord, the coming of Jesus continues to be enacted even today. Jesus comes in our midst as the Word is proclaimed, and as the Sacraments are celebrated. While this coming is visible in all the sacraments of the Church, it is more powerfully tangible in the Eucharist. This threefold coming of Christ is brought out very meaningfully in one of the sets of the penitential invocations – that we use during ‘Kyrie Eleison’ or ‘Lord have mercy’:
Lord Jesus, you came to gather the nations in the peace of God’s Kingdom.
You come in word and sacrament to strengthen us in holiness.
You will come in glory with salvation for your people.
The solemnity of Christmas that we now look forward to is the feast that commemorates all the three comings of Christ. For sure, it recalls the historical birth of Jesus of Nazareth. We should also remember that the run-up to Christmas offers us yet another opportunity to reflect about the Second Coming of Christ. As we hopefully wait for his second coming we are supported by the Word of God and the Sacraments. Yes, Jesus comes. Here and now.
I would like to conclude with the poem entitled, “Silent Steps” by Rabindranath Tagore:
Have you not heard his silent steps?
He comes, comes, ever comes.
Every moment and every age,
every day and every night he comes, comes, ever comes.
Many a song have I sung in many a mood of mind,
but all their notes have always proclaimed,
`He comes, comes, ever comes.’
In the fragrant days of sunny April through the forest path he comes,
comes, ever comes.
In the rainy gloom of July nights on the thundering chariot of clouds
he comes, comes, ever comes.
In sorrow after sorrow it is his steps that press upon my heart,
and it is the golden touch of his feet that makes my joy to shine (Gitanjali, XLV).
Fr. Franco Pereira, S.D.B.