Dear brothers and sisters of the Diocese of Quincy,
During the four weeks that precede Christmas, and especially on Sundays, the Church dedicates the liturgy of the mass to the contemplation of the first coming of Christ to earth, to His approaching triumphant coming, and to the disposition that we should have in order to receive Him. The blue that we use for our vestments and to adorn our altars for our celebrations reminds us of the attitude of joyful expectation that all Christians should have in preparing ourselves for such an important event.
In celebrating Advent, the Church invites you to meditate on the coming of the Lord. This coming is presented to us in three dimensions:
The Historical Advent: the waiting lived out by people who longed for the coming of the Savior, from Adam until the Incarnation, across the entirety of the Old Testament. In listening to the teaching of the Prophets, we receive the important lesson to prepare our hearts for the arrival of the Lord. In drawing nearer to this history, we identify with those who fervently longed for the coming of the Messiah and the liberation that they were expecting from Him.
The Mystical Advent: the moral preparation of mankind today for the coming of the Lord, the present-day Advent. It is the appropriate time for evangelization and for the prayer that prepares each person, as an individual, and the entire human race, as a community, to accept the salvation that comes from the Lord. Jesus is the Lord who comes constantly to mankind. It is necessary for each person to perceive this truth, in order to have an open heart, ready to allow the Lord to enter. Advent, understood this way, is of utmost importance and pertinence.
The Eschatological Advent: the preparation for the final coming of the Lord, at the end of times, when He will come to crown once and for all His redeemed, giving to each one according to his or her deeds. The Church invites people not to anticipate this time with fear and anguish, but rather with the hope that, when it comes, there will be eternal happiness for those who have accepted Jesus as their Savior.
The celebration of Advent demonstrates how all time revolves around Christ, who is the same yesterday, today, and always (Hebrews 13:8); Christ the Lord of time and of history.
During the season of Advent, the liturgy invites us to consider God – Love who makes Himself present in the history of humankind and who saves humanity through Jesus of Nazareth in whom the Father is revealed (Luke 2:11). Advent should increase our conviction that God loves us and wants to save us, and should likewise increase our love and gratitude to God.
Advent is a liturgical time with an eschatological dimension, a time that reminds us that the Christian life does not end here, but rather that God has destined us for eternity and for salvation (John 10:28-30); in this plan, history is the place of the promises of God.
God announces and fulfills His promises in our time. Advent is the season when we celebrate the eschatological dimension of our faith, for it presents to us the divine plan of salvation, with elements that have already been realized in Christ and other elements of plenitude for which we await fulfillment.
This eschatological hope supposes an attitude of vigilance, because the Lord will come when we least expect it (Mark 13:33). Vigilance requires faithfulness, eager hope, and also radical commitment from the Christian who awaits the return of the Savior. It is the inner cry of MARANATHA, COME LORD JESUS! To wait for the Lord means to be convinced that only through Him comes salvation, that only He can liberate us from our misery, a misery that enslaves us and prevents our growth. The season of Advent reminds us that the Savior is getting closer, and because of this, our hope is accompanied by happiness, joy, and trust.
Advent is also the time of commitment. The invitation of the Baptist to prepare the way of the Lord (Mark 1:3) presents to us the ideal of an active and effective waiting. We should not wait for our coming Lord with our arms crossed, but rather active, reaching out to contribute to the building of a better world, one that will be more just, more peaceful, where we will live in brotherhood and solidarity. The hope of this new heaven and new earth compels us to transformative work for our world now, and in this way also matures and prepares us for the final transformation at the end of time (Revelation 21). The ultimate eschatological hope at the end of time is not an invitation to the absence of commitment to this earthly society, but rather a stimulus to prepare it for its transformation in Him.
Advent causes us to ardently desire the return of Christ, but the vision of our unjust world, plagued with hatred and division, reveals to us its lack of preparation to receive the Lord. As believers, we have to prepare the world and mature it for the coming of the Lord (Matthew 28:19-20).
In the time of Advent, we are presented with three people who help to prepare us for Christmas:
Isaiah is the Prophet of Advent (Isaiah 7:14). In his words resound the echo of the great hope that will comfort God’s chosen people in times both difficult and transcendental. In his attitude and words, this hope, the coming of the Messiah King, is made manifest. He announces a hope for all times.
In our time, it is worthwhile to look at the figure of Isaiah and to listen to his message that tells us that all is not lost, because the faithful God in whom we believe will never abandon His people, on the contrary, He will give them salvation.
John the Baptist, the Forerunner, is another central figure of Advent (Matthew 3:1-12). In his life and words, he summarizes for us all that has gone before. He prepares the way of the Lord, invites us to conversion, announces salvation, and points to Christ as the One among humankind. The words of invitation to repentance from John the Baptist have great relevance for us today and his invitation is of utmost importance: to receive the Savior, we have to change our mindset that leads to evil deeds, in order to meet with Him after our hearts have been changed.
Mary, the Mother of our Lord, is the third central figure of Advent. In her, all the messianic hope of Israel culminates and acquires a marvelous dimension. Mary waits for the Lord, committing herself to cooperate in the redemptive work with her yes, “be it done unto me according to Thy Word” (Luke 1:30-38). Her attitude of trust and active hope is a model to follow.
The Christian hope is more than a mere consolation for the future. It consists of nothing less than the aspiration to historically transform relationships between human beings. Christians are witnesses to a promise that evokes this news throughout history.
The Church as a practical and effective sign of Christian hope should be a transformative force that prepares the world for the second coming of Christ and the world cannot disconnect the Church from its prophetic vocation and its commitment to Christ in the midst of human society.
Despite secular opinion to the contrary, the Church should be the “homeland of liberty” and, since the hope it offers extends to beyond this life and time, it should be able to question any society trapped in its own idolatry. Furthermore, the Church should exercise a critical role against any ideology that threatens humanity with absolutism. However, it is not the role of the Church in our pluralistic society to propose a particular social order, because in doing so, it would fall into a new way of sacralizing politics.
These reflections, arising from the biblical message at the beginning of Advent and in the light of the theology of hope, show us that Christian hope is either something very active or it is nothing.
This is why history is always open to something new and God is the Lord of an unforeseeable future. In this way, history itself speaks not merely of a God who exists, who is there and only reveals Himself through present events, but rather of the God who is to come, who is coming: an in-coming God.
May this Advent help us to sing with a renewed strength, with a living faith, and with certain hope: MARANATHA, COME LORD JESUS!
May God bless you during this glorious Advent season.
The Rt. Rev. J. Alberto Morales, OSB