Fear and Greater Hope of Advent
Dec 4, 2018
Perhaps it strikes us as odd that though today is the start of Advent, the Gospel reading is filled with images of chaos, catastrophe, and fear. Hardly the frame of mind one would desire in expectation of the season of joy and peace.
The images of turmoil that highlight the second coming of Christ are conditions that have existed in the world since the moment that Adam and Eve made their unfortunate decision to turn from God to evil. The shrapnel effect of this explosion of sin has extended through the entirety of human history, though the shrapnel has now become more lethal than the initial detonation.
It is into this turmoil that Christ descends from the security of His eternity, nowhere more boldly and more shockingly than in His conception and infant birth. The turmoil of the world is also the extension of the turmoil that we experience in our individual lives. Nations do not make war, people do.
The effects of mortal and venial sins do not terminate in external actions or evaporate into thin air once committed: they infect our heart, mind, soul and body like a contagious bacteria which exposes others to the danger of contamination.
God could have easily quarantined us and have left us to our misery, leaving the door to Paradise forever slammed shut. Advent reminds us that He does not and the Second Coming is the exclamation point of the Christmas miracle of mercy.
Christ is God who is perfect purity, the infinite radiance and splendor of all Heaven’s beauty who is lowered from His spectacular realm of dazzling light into the terrible darkness of our human history and human condition.
Despite the time of year, one is often aware of a certain tension. It is the tension between Advent and the Second Coming. We seem to always be in a state of anxious expectation, that no sooner do we accomplish a task or have reached a goal, we are looking toward the next one.
It is the tug and pull of those forces within which represent our earthly condition butting heads with our eternal destiny. We live such frenzied lives, always in a rush to get somewhere, which is always much further from where we initially hoped to arrive. Though our bodies are worn down and out by earthly time, our souls keep eternal time.
When one has traveled almost a whole world away to return home after too long an absence, that person, once he begins to see familiar landmarks, gets excited. The weariness of the long traveled road suddenly disappears and is replaced with the excitement of eager anticipation.
As each second of the clock passes, each hour is lost in whole days which quickly give way to whole weeks, whole months and too quickly passing years. The anxieties and concerns of this life, the exaggerated focus on satisfying the demands of the flesh mightily weigh us down, especially as old age begins to make its strong impact felt.
And burdened by these weights of responsibility and the more heavier weight of sins and sufferings, we lose sight of where exactly we are going in the first place since all our emotional and spiritual energies become distracted from the ultimate destination.
But God in His infinite mercy constantly provides flares that suddenly illuminate the landscape and invite us to reclaim our bearings and our confidence.
The first week of Advent is one of those flares. Its reminder of the second coming of Christ is a reminder of our impending death, our at last having to leave this life and stand before the judgment seat of Christ, first alone, and then at the conclusion of human history stand with every person to have ever lived for the Last Judgment.
Confronting death, as in Advent, we confront possibilities and anticipate changes. If we are attentive and not shut our eyes to the flare that illuminates the darkness, the mystery of our own life begins to unravel.
The process of dying, either our own or engaging another’s, empties us of so much of our earthly concerns. In light of this process what once seemed so important or so essential seems inconsequential when held up to the fading light of one’s passing away. And having been emptied of this excess, though filled with grief, this grief fills us with compassion, charity, a courage and strength we thought we did not have. The experience of our Faith is intensified.
More prayers are said. Novenas are discovered, devotionals like the Rosary suddenly become as commonplace as breathing, and we find ourselves lighting enough vigil candles to illuminate a whole town.
We also find ourselves on our knees before the Blessed Sacrament for longer stretches at a time, attending Mass more frequently and where once our visits to the confessional were measured in years, they are now measured in weeks.
All these represent reasons to why Advent begins with images of suffering and death. To anticipate our own certainly, so that emptied of the world and its distractions we can then prepare to receive that which is stronger than death, that which obliterates all death and suffering…the life of Jesus Christ.