Welcome to the first installment of our series of reflections for Advent. On this first Sunday of Advent, let’s take some time to first understand what Advent is and what it means for us, as Catholic Christians.
Most of us know that Advent is the period of time ahead of Christmas in which we prepare for the remembrance of the coming of the Incarnate Word in the form of a baby born of Mary. We enjoy decorating our homes, playing Christmas carols, and lighting the candles in our Advent wreaths to mark the passing weeks. Advent is a season of joy, anticipation, and patience as we wait for the Son of God to come, as promised, and save us. All of this is true and good, but there are some deeper layers to Advent that are worth exploring further.
God has a tendency to teach and prepare His people for things very slowly, revealing things to them in a way that is relatable based on their ability to understand who God is and the role He plays in their lives. When Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, God almost immediately promised a solution in the form of a Savior (Genesis 3:15), but He only promised one. He could have solved the problem right then and there, but that would not have been in the best interest of humanity. Instead, God required that His people wait for centuries before He sent a solution for their sinful ways. However, He did not leave them simply waiting in the dark. God leads His people little by little, building them up like an architect would construct a building, starting with a foundation and building each floor on the last. After all, you cannot build a skyscraper by starting with the sixth floor. So, after Adam and Eve, God took the time to slowly build using tools and materials like prophets, trials, miracles, admonitions, covenants, exiles, etc. All of this was meant to prepare His people for the most blessed goodness He had in store for them. Jesus came according to God’s perfect timing, when His people were prepared to receive Him, and we received the gift of His Nativity (Gal 4:4).
The Catholic Church teaches that Jesus will come again to mark the end of the Earth and take those who are worthy to His Kingdom in Heaven for ever (CCCC #1040). So, what has our Father been doing between the Ascension of His Son and now? Well, He has been being the good Father He always has been by preparing us slowly, little by little, so we are ready for the time when Jesus comes again. However, He has not been doing it with the same tools He used prior to giving us His Word Incarnate. Before Jesus’ final departure, He established His holy Church under the care of His Apostles and then sent the Holy Spirit at Pentecost to protect the Church and all she teaches. Ever since, God has been preparing and building up His people so they will be ready for the Second Coming of Jesus. While God has changed the means by which He prepares His people, He is still an unchanging Father and has not changed His methodology of teaching us very slowly, over time, in a way that will be much more beneficial to our understanding and conversion. So, things are revealed through the Church in a slow manner through our Popes, Bishops, doctrines, dogmas, apostolic exhortations, encyclicals, catechisms, synods, theologians, etc. Slowly, over the years since Jesus, the Church has continually deepened and developed her understanding of God’s divine plan and has communicated that back to humanity in order to prepare for the Kingdom of God.
Just as our ancient ancestors did not know when their Savior would arrive, we don’t know when He’ll return. Jesus tells us, “But of that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone,” (Matthew 24:36). What does this mean for us? It means that we have to be constantly preparing ourselves, so that we are ready when He does come. In a sense, our entire life and all of human history has been, and is, in a state of perpetual Advent.
Now that we understand God’s methodology, we can apply it directly to our own lives. Can you see how God has been slowly revealing things to you over time in order to prepare you for the next thing? Perhaps He has sent particular people into your life to teach you things, just like He sent prophets to our ancestors. Perhaps He has used particular events or opportunities in your life to prepare you for something to come ahead. Of course, you don’t realize it at the time, but looking back you can see how He sent you the opportunity to prepare. Perhaps you’re not a cradle Catholic and, through a series of events, you were led to the Catholic faith. Was there a time you did not completely understand or accept a particular Church teaching or doctrine, but found that your understanding deepened over time and it was no longer an obstacle for you? Were you once locked in the vice of a particular sin, but by the grace of God, you’ve been released from the grips of that sin? How has your prayer life changed over time? Were you once on the right track, moving forward, but drifted off course, only to find God leading you back and righting your course again?
So, if our entire life is an Advent for the second coming of Jesus, what does this mean for the liturgical season of Advent we are experiencing now? The season of Advent is just another tool God uses through His Church to teach and prepare us. It is a gift! Humans have short attention spans and it is very easy for us to get distracted or lose sight of the goal. It is difficult for us to remember everything we know about God at all times and, quite frankly, we can’t get our heads around it all even if we try. So, the liturgical season of Advent is a short, finite period of time wherein we intentionally examine how we are preparing ourselves for the second coming of our Lord and Savior. Hopefully, I am correctly assuming that we all want to go to Heaven with Him when the final judgment comes. In order to do that, we need to be intentional about allowing God’s divine blueprint to be implemented and cooperating in the building of our lives in such a way that we may reach heaven. It is only by God’s grace that we will have a solid foundation on which all of the subsequent levels of our lives can be built. In the coming weeks, we are going to look at practical ways we can do that along with the tools that are available to us in our mission.