You do not know the day

The prayers and readings of today’s Mass are full of joyful expectation for something incredible. In the collect, we prayed together asking God for “the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ with righteous deeds at his coming.” In our first reading, all nations stream toward Jerusalem, the Lord’s city, which was built on top of a high mountain, saying as the go “Come, let us climb the LORD’s mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may instruct us in his ways, and we may walk in his paths.” The psalmist echoes this sentiment, saying “Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord.” Even St. Paul is swept up in eager expectation today, writing that “it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep. For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed; the night is advanced, the day is at hand.” Jesus himself even tells us to “Stay Awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come.”

What are all of these readings pointing toward? They are expecting the coming of the Messiah. It is fitting that in the season of Advent we would be preparing for the Nativity of Jesus, but the prayers and readings today are also pointing beyond that. As we purify ourselves and prepare ourselves to commemorate and memorialize the birth of the Messiah at Christmas, the Church is trying to remind us to look to the future: to the second coming of the Messiah. We spend weeks preparing ourselves and our homes to celebrate Christmas Day; many are already celebrating Christmas: we love to have our Christmas parties during Advent, as opposed to the—admittedly brief—Christmas season. There are probably people out there who’ve already started preparing their Christmas dinners, who’ve purchased a tree already, who’ve put up their lights.

I suppose that’s all fine, as long as we remember that we’re not there yet. Christmas is still 24 days away. We still have time set aside to prepare for that day. Whether or not we’ve decorated yet, whether started planning our dinners and parties, or whether we’ve tuned our radios to one of those “All Christmas All The Time” stations, we still have 24 days to get ready. If keeping all those reminds of what we’re preparing to celebrate helps, then great. But we cannot forget to prepare for the coming of our Lord, because while we memorialize and make Jesus’s birth present again to us on Christmas Day, Jesus is going to come again. As we prepare for Jesus’s first coming, as a little child, we are teaching ourselves how to prepare for his second coming in glory, where he conquers the world and brings us all back to himself.

Today’s readings and prayers tell us all of this as well. Isaiah writes that “From Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and impose terms on many peoples.” The psalmist writes that in Jerusalem “are set up judgment seats, seats for the house of David.” Paul writes, “Let us them throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in promiscuity and lust, not in rivalry and jealousy.” Jesus tells us, “you must also be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.”

Let us prepare ourselves for the coming of our Lord, our King, and our God. From ages long past until perhaps the late 19th or early 20th century, we would fast during the entirety of Advent. That later turned to abstaining from meat throughout Advent, until very recently when Advent seems to have lost nearly all of its preparatory character. These practices are very similar to Lenten practices that we practiced until very recently. Along those lines of thought, maybe we can give something up for Advent, make a commitment to pray a few extra minutes a day, make special effort to go to Confession, or something like that. By engaging in these time-honored traditions of the Church, we will make Advent more meaningful, and by extension, we will make the celebration of Christmas that much greater. Best of all, we will have begun our preparations for the Second Coming—so that we are prepared when the Son of Man comes again in great glory.

Today’s Readings:
December 1, 2019
First Sunday of Advent, Year A
Isaiah 2:1-5; Psalm 122; Romans 13:11-14; Matthew 24:37-44

Come, Lord Jesus!

Welcome to the new liturgical year! We begin with Advent. Advent… What is Advent all about? Didn’t Christ already come? Why do we have to ready for something that already happened?

Christ did come to us 2,000 years ago. He comes to us every day through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and we experience him being truly, entirely, and substantially present to us in the Eucharist.1 Christ will come again, but not as a baby: he will come in glory!

We don’t know when this second coming will happen, so we must be ready for it. If Christ is already present, though, why do we need to spend the season of Advent preparing?

We forget. It’s that simple. We forget that Christ is going to come again. We forget how important the Incarnation is. Nobody expected the Incarnation! In the first reading, the Jews are pleading for God to save them. They beg Him to “rend the heavens and come down.” So he did. God became a human being. He became a little child, the son of a carpenter and a virgin. Nobody expected it to happen that way. Few accepted it. Who was able to recognize Jesus as God?

The only people capable of recognizing Jesus are the childlike—those who have the simplicity to trust in God’s plan, even when they don’t understand. Fr. Luigi Giussani2 writes that even after the Resurrection, the apostles still expected Jesus to establish an earthly kingdom. He corrects them, and because of their childlike simplicity, because of their trust in him, the apostles “let it drop; they don’t hold to the demand that He answer their questions just as they may have imagined, but they remain attached to Him more deeply than they were attached to their opinions, with a greater simplicity. Because being attached to one’s own opinion requires the loss of simplicity, the introduction of a presumption and the predominance of one’s own imagination over [God’s plan].”3

How do we grow in this childlike simplicity? How do we learn to abandon our certainties about how the future will play out, to accept what God has planned? In a word, how do we learn detachment? Three practices, in particular, assist with learning detachment: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. These three practices help purify us of the evil things that slowly creep into our hearts without us realizing. Practicing prayer, fasting, and almsgiving is hard, but that shouldn’t stop us. Paul tells us that God has bestowed, and continues to bestow, Jesus Christ on us, enriching us in every way. He will keep [us] firm to the end. By spending Advent in preparation for Christmas, we prepare ourselves for Jesus’s glorious return.

Advent is the time of year where the famously ambiguous “already, but not yet” is most visible. Jesus is already present to us, but he has not yet come again. This is summed up in a fantastic word which almost never hear outside of Advent: Maranatha. It is one of the last words in the Bible, and was used in the ancient liturgies. We aren’t sure exactly how to translate it, because the Aramaic words can be broken up two ways. It could mean “Come, O Lord!”, or it could mean “Our Lord has come!”

Isn’t this ambiguity perfect? Our Lord has come, but he will come again. What glorious news!

Let us prepare for the Word to become flesh at Christmas, and in doing so prepare for Him to come again. Jesus tells us to Be watchful! Be alert! … so that when Jesus comes, he may not find [us] sleeping at the gates.

Maranâ thâ! Come, O Lord! Let us be ready to greet you, so that when you come we might exclaim Maran ‘athâ! Our Lord has come!

Today’s Readings:
December 3, 2017
First Sunday of Advent, Year B
Isaiah 63:16b-17, 19b; 64:2-7; Psalm 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19; 1 Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 13:33-37

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