(I originally wrote this article for the parish newsletter at Sacred Heart Church in Pinehurst, NC, 2003)
Happy New Year!
With the celebration of the First Sunday of Advent on November 27, we enter a new liturgical year, in which the Church will again present the history and unchanging mysteries of our salvation, from Creation to the Second Coming, together with the entire life of our Savior.
Advent is a particularly lovely season. For all its solemnity, it is a particularly exciting time as we again contemplate and anticipate the Coming of the Savior — incarnate in history, as we celebrate at Christmas; “in Glory, to judge the living and the dead” as we proclaim in the Creed; and in grace, in the Eucharist and in the Word of God proclaimed.
Our initial focus during the first two weeks of Advent is on Christ’s second coming. Again and again the scriptures remind us of our need to be ready, to be disposed, for His coming and His judgment; thus, Advent begins on a penitential note.
Then on the third Sunday of Advent, our focus lifts. Gaudete Sunday receives its name from the first word of our Opening Antiphon and of our Reading: Rejoice! The deep purple of penance is replaced today with the rose of joy. We begin our liturgical anticipation of Christmas.
While preparation for Christmas is an important part of Advent, this is also a season for us to discover a renewed vision of our lives as Christians. In the interval between the Incarnation and the Second Coming, we find our deepest meaning as human beings. Because of the great love God has for us, “He emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave… He humbled Himself, becoming obedient to death” (Phil. 2:7,8). As C.S. Lewis once said, this gives dignity to the lowliest of beggars, and humility to the most exalted of princes; how much more it gives meaning and substance to ordinary folk like you and me!
Even more wondrous is the Coming of Christ to human hearts. That the Creator of the cosmos chooses to intimately dwell with us, through the indwelling Holy Spirit and through Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist, is a mystery about which we simply cannot afford to be come complacent.
We have a particular date to celebrate Christ’s birth; we are not given a day or an hour to anticipate His Coming Again. When we face God in the Final Judgment, we will have to give an accounting: “Do you love me?” Our Lord asked this of Peter; He will ask no less of us.
Advent becomes, therefore, a time to reflect on these Truths and to renew our commitment to Christ, to resolve to live this new liturgical year more faithfully than ever before.