by Patrick Angiolillo
The Advent season has arrived. For many this is a favored season in the liturgical calendar. In the American Northeast, the days grow shorter and the air exponentially chillier, but the joy and warmth of this season of expectation provide the necessary retreat from the wintry weather descending upon us all. But as we enter into this Christian season of waiting, which may more properly be understood as a season of welcoming, or coming—the word advent comes from the Latin adventus, a combination of ad (to, toward) and venire (to come)—we might do well to ask what exactly it is we are waiting to arrive?
The readings from the first Sunday of this Advent give us the answer, and remind us what this season, and every season, is truly about.
The reading from the book of the prophet Isaiah (NAB 63:16b-17, 19b; 64:2-7) reminds us of our relationship to God. God is the Father, and “our redeemer you are named forever.” Our salvation is from and by God; God alone. In the passage selected, the prophet laments the sinful state—the hardened hearts—of humanity. He cries out to God, “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down!” And “Would that you might meet us doing right, that we were mindful of you in our ways!” He decries the state of his brothers and sisters, among whom “There is none who calls upon your name.” But he concludes with a reaffirmation of God’s relationship to us: “Yet, O LORD, you are our father.” Regardless of our sinful state, God is the source of our being and our salvation, and we pray for his presence to be made certain among us. Lamenting, we call out that God would walk among us as he did in Eden (Gen 3:8). Indeed, David too invokes God to shine forth from his heavenly throne that we might be saved by him (Ps 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19).
The prayer of prophet and king is realized in the incarnation of the Son of God, in the man Jesus the Nazarene, born to the virgin Mary, wife of the carpenter Joseph. This man Jesus the Christ is the source of our salvation. He suffers death but rises in triumph. As we know, he ascends to heaven, and from where he will come again. It is through this savior Jesus that God the Father acts in the world.
If we turn to Paul’s letter (1 Cor 1:3-9), then, we see that he invites his audience to be thankful, as he himself is thankful, for their spiritual gifts from the Father. He reminds us that God “will keep you firm to the end, irreproachable on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Indeed, Paul and his disciples are praying the prayer of Isaiah and David, but a new point in the history of God’s salvation. They are awaiting Christ’s return.
Like the prophet Isaiah before him, Paul is keenly aware of humanity’s sin, but he knows just as well that through Jesus—his life, death, and resurrection—we have gained salvation from this sin. And he encourages his followers with the reassurance that the grace of God prepares us for the end that will come. We today, with Paul and his followers, await the time when God will come and “might meet us doing right” (Isa 64:5).
The reading from Mark’s Gospel (13:33-37) is perhaps most acutely aware of our ill-preparedness for God’s coming. Jesus tells his disciples that we do not know the time when the Son of Man will come. And we would do well to heed his warning: “May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping.” Christ’s short, staccato admonition is nearly frightening in the Greek—he says “blepete, agrupneite!” which can literally be translated as “Be watchful, and be awake!” We should be ever vigilante of the time when Christ will come again, such that he can find us blameless and “irreproachable” (1 Cor 1:8), acting according to his will.
These readings are all really oriented toward the Second Coming of Christ (what we also call the Parousia). As much as this season prepares us to celebrate the birth and incarnation of God into the world two thousand years ago, it also prepares us to be mindful of and ready for the return of the very same God in the person Jesus the Christ. God is “the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come” (Rev 1:8). God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—is the God of and in history, who still acts in our world today and who has deigned to act decisively again in the future, just as he acted decisively at the times of Christ’s incarnation and resurrection.
Christ is the “Alpha and the Omega” (Rev 1:8; cf. Rev 21:6), the “first and the last” (Rev 1:17). He is the beginning and the end of this creation, this world. It is for his coming once again, his return, and his re-creation of this still-broken and still-bruised world that we are waiting. When Christ returns, he will “rend the heavens and come down” (Isa 64:1) and on that day “we will no more withdraw from you” for God will “give us new life, and we will call upon your name” (Ps 80:18). We will be at the next point in the history of God’s salvation, a point at which we will have every spiritual gift from the Father, through the Son, with the Holy Spirit.
We should not think of this expectation in terms of a Hollywood movie. We are not waiting for the end of the world according to these kinds of cinematic interpretations. Rather, we are awaiting the consummation of creation and the full realization of God in the world. How does this affect us today? Some may be familiar with the Ignatian saying, “Finding God in all things.” This maxim serves us well in our present time. We are ever called to find God realized in our brothers and our sisters, in our work and our world, in nature and in all things of creation. This we should do that Christ may live and work and be in us today. But as we do this, we should be ever aware that this fractured world, which only lets us find God through a kaleidoscope, so to speak, will, one day, be made new, and on that day we will see clearly the face of God—“we will see him as he is” (1 John 3:2; cf. Rev 22:4).
Thus just as Christ said to his apostles, so he says to us, “I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (John 16:22). This is what we are waiting for.