Permanent Advent

First Sunday of Advent.

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

The first Sunday of Advent marks the beginning of the liturgical year. This holy season is meant to help us prepare for the upcoming celebration of Christmas. It is also meant to remind us of the transient character of our existence, and the expectation of the second coming of Christ in glory and majesty at the end of times. The apocalyptic tone of the readings this week emphasize the latter meaning of Advent. The closer we get to Christmas Day, the emphasis will begin to shift away from the end of times to the characters and events on that glorious day when our Savior was born to die on the cross and set us free from sin and death.

The apocalyptic tone of the readings this week is a sobering reminder that our entire lives are a permanent Advent. We live in expectation of Christ who is coming to us. He comes to us daily in the Eucharist and in those whom we meet. We also know that we will all have a definitive encounter with Christ at the end of times or at the end of our earthly pilgrimage, whatever happens first.

The exhortation in the Gospel proclaimed this Sunday to be alert is precisely an invitation to contemplate the horizon of our existence, to realize that we are created for eternity, that eternal life is what we have been created for and everything in this life is passing and will eventually come to an end. This realization does not instill fear in us, but hope. Christ´s resurrection has transformed reality. What we expect at the end of times is already present in our midst albeit not fully manifest.

The contemplation of our own fragility, temporality and even our own mortality is not meant to be an exercise in self-pity, paralyzing fear and sorrow but an opportunity to open our hearts, our minds, our intellect to the saving power of God, his love, his grace, lavishly poured on us. We are not invited to wait passively but to be alert to work diligently for the coming of the Kingdom, to apply ourselves, our entire being to the advancement of the Kingdom of God.

Father Alfred Delp, a German Jesuit who was accused of plotting against Hitler, sentenced to death and executed, knew this very well. His Advent sermons are a gem that acquire new meaning because of his life and death and because they were preached at a time of great darkness in his own country and, indeed, in the entire world. There follows a fragment.

“Despite this gloomy time, with a certitude about life and faith, we have set up the Advent wreath, even though no one knows how long it will stand or whether all four of its candles will be lit. The course of the liturgical year and the message continues, and we keep on doing things—but not for the sake of custom and tradition. It comes from a sense of certitude about things and mankind and revelation—things that are fixed and valid in and of themselves. These give mankind the right to light candles and to believe in the light and brightness of existence. Not as if it were granted to us to erase all the gloominess! All the gloom must be gone through and endured. Yet, precisely for that reason, the lights of Advent should shine forth from within as we let ourselves be led to the insight that man is not under the law of imprisonment, enslavement, threats…

Even so, our waiting is not the end. In today’s Gospel about the end of the world, we read: “The people will languish in fearful expectation as they await the things that will come over the entire world; for the powers of Heaven will be shaken”. There is a character of fearful expectation when things start to tremble, when life is felt to be so menacing. Nevertheless, it is bourgeois simply to wait for the sky to become light again. This experience of waiting will continue to be wrongly understood unless one sees that we are meant to learn from it. Man is not permitted to fixate himself too much within his own sphere of life, settling himself too firmly in place until he is chased away. We will wrongly understand this waiting if we forget that the deeper meaning of life is to keep watch…

This should be our first Advent light: to understand everything, all that happens to us and all that threatens us, from the perspective of life’s character of waiting. We must endure all the blessedness and unblessedness of waiting because we are under way. The character of life is to keep going, to keep a lookout, and to endure until the vigilant heart of man and the heart of God who meets us come together…”

Fr. Roberto M. Cid