The musical Godspell had many catchy songs, one of which was Prepare ye the way of the Lord. This was the vocation of St. John the Baptist whose life was dedicated to the One who will come after, the promised Messiah. When John was asked “who he was”, he was definite that he was not the Messiah. He knew that his ministry would be superseded by the One greater than he. “I baptize in water” but He will “baptize in the Holy Spirit” (Jn. 1. 21 - 26, 33).
In his ministry John uttered one of the most important truths for living the Christian life, “He must increase but I must decrease” (Jn. 3. 30). This is an excellent start for us who want to take the time each day for meditation and grow in our knowledge and love of that promised Messiah.
Advent is a preparation for the great feast of our dear Saviour’s coming at Christmas that culminates with Midnight Mass. That way we can kneel in adoration and awe at the crib after that wonderful Midnight Mass and welcome the holy Infant as the humble shepherds did on that first Christmas night.
Advent above all else is a time of hope and anticipation, not a time for partying. It is also a time for letting God mould us more in His image. He is the potter and we are but clay. Let Him shape us this Advent as we surrender ourselves into His hand and be content with this. Then we shall look forward to Christmas with great joy as that precious moment in time when God’s plan for man’s redemption came to fruition with the birth of the Christ Child.
Christ took upon Him our earthiness in order that we might be fashioned like God. As St. Anthony of Padua reminds us, “Christ’s love for us so bound him to us, that it motivated him to descend down to our wretchedness, as if he could not have lived in heaven without us.” Thus we have the Twelve Days of Christmas in which to celebrate this most wonderful event.
As well as looking forward to greeting the Christ Child, Advent also enables us to look forward to meeting Christ as our King and Judge. On that Last Day we shall be judged on how much we have loved God by serving others. Christ will also claim His kingdom as His own and His rule will be complete. If that expectant flame has died “down in our sleeping hearts” then it “must be revived at all costs. At all costs we must renew in ourselves the desire and hope for the great coming,” wrote Pierre De Chardin.
Advent is thus a time for us to ponder on our whole dependency on God, for without Him we are nothing. There is “really not one true thought or good feeling” we can have without Him. There are no good works without Him. We even cannot “drive away ... any sinful feeling or any inclination to vice” without Him. “It is the Lord who accomplishes every good thing” we ever “think, feel and do.”
Of course we cannot think of Advent without a word about prayer. It is the living water to quench each soul. It is the “golden link” which connects the “wanderer and stranger upon earth with the spiritual world ... [and] with God, the source of life.” Without it our real selves wither and die, and there is no kernel to life.
Advent Sunday begins with its readings beckoning us to come to God’s holy mountain. So let us ascend the mountain. Here God calls us to a place of quietness where we can linger with Him and leave behind everything that hinders our union with Him, and our understanding of His kingdom. Here we seek only God, of being with Him, of loving Him and above all to learn more about Him and His will for us. Father John of Kronstadt assures us that “the best moments on earth are those in which we meditate upon heavenly things, or when we recognise and defend the truth, which is of, and from, the heavens.” Or, as the Psalmist expressed it, “one day in his court is better than a thousand” elsewhere (Ps. 84. 10).
The Advent Season has the most beautiful readings of any season I think. Let the readings speak to you personally as you linger on God’s mountain. The daily reflections are like a springboard to engage us in deeper contemplation and prayer.
A Reading from a sermon of Bernard of Clairvaux for Advent Sunday
We have come to understand a threefold coming of the Lord. The third coming lies between the other two. Two of the comings are clearly visible, but the third is not. In the first coming the Lord was seen on earth, dwelling among us; and as he himself testified, they saw him and hated him. In his final coming 'all flesh shall see the salvation of our God,' and 'they will look on him whom they pierced.'
This intermediate coming is hidden, in which only his chosen recognise his presence within themselves and their souls are saved. In his first coming our Lord came in our flesh and in our weakness; in the intermediate coming he comes in spirit and in power; in his final coming, he will be seen in glory and majesty.
This intermediate coming is like a road on which we travel from his first coming to his last. In the first, Christ was our redemption; in the last, he will appear as our life; in his intermediate coming, he is our comfort and our rest.
Lest anyone should think that what we are saying about this intermediate coming is our own fancy, listen to what our Lord himself says in the gospel: 'If any love me, they will keep nlY word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.' There is also another passage in Scripture which reads: 'Those who fear the Lord will do good.' But something more is said about those who love God, and that is that they will keep God's word. And where are his words to be kept not in our heart? As the prophet says: 'I have kept your words in my heart lest I sill against you.'
Think of the word of God in the way you think of your food. When bread is kept in a bin, a thief can steal it, or a mouse can find its way in and gnaw it, and eventually, of course, it goes mouldy; Once you have eaten your bread, you have nothing to fear not of God, for those who keep it are blessed. Feed on it, digest it, allow its goodness to pass into your body so that your affections and whole way of behaviour is nourished and transformed. Do not forget to eat your bread and your heart will not wither. Fill your soul with God's .richness and strength.
If you keep the word of God in this way, without doubt it will keep you also. The Son with the Father will come to you. The great prophet who will restore Jerusalem will come to you and make all things new. The effect of his coming will be that just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly, so we shall also bear the likeness of the heavenly. Just as the old Adam used to possess our being and control us, so now let Christ, the second Adam, who created us and redeemed us, take possession of us whole and entire.
A Reading from the Catechetical Lectures of Cyril of Jerusalem
We do not preach only one coming of Christ, but a second as well, much more glorious than the first. The first coming was marked by patience; the second will bring the crown of a divine kingdom.
In general, what relates to our Lord Jesus Christ has two aspects. There is a birth from God before the ages, and a birth from a virgin at the fullness of time. There is a hidden coming, like that of rain on fleece, and a coming before all eyes, still in the future.
At the first coming he was wrapped in swaddling clothes in a manger. At his second coming he will be clothed in light as in a garment. In the first coming he endured the cross, despising the shame; in the second coming he will be in glory, escorted by an army of angels. We look then beyond the first coming and await the second. At the first coming we said: 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.' At the second we shall say it again; we shall go out with the angels to meet the Lord and cry out in adoration: 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.'
The Saviour will not come to be judged again, but to judge those by whom he was judged. At his own judgement he was silent; then he will address those who committed the outrages against him when they crucified him and will remind them: 'You did these things, and I was silent.'
His first coming was to fulfil his plan of love, to teach us by gentle persuasion. This time, whether we like it or not, we will be subjects of his kingdom by necessity. Malachi the prophet speaks of the two comings. 'And the Lord whom you seek will come suddenly to his temple': that is one coming.
Again he says of another coming: 'Look, the Lord almighty will come, and who can endure the day of his coming, or who will stand in his sight? Because he comes like a refiner's fire, a fuller's soap, and he will sit refining and cleansing.'
These two comings are also referred to by Paul in his writing in Titus:
The grace of God the Saviour has appeared to all, humanity, instructing us to put aside impiety and worldly desires and live temperately, uprightly, and religiously in this present age, waiting for joyful hope, the appearance of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ.' Notice how he speaks of a first coming he gives thanks, and a second, the one we still await.
That is why the faith we profess has been handed on to you in these words: 'He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.'
Our Lord Jesus Christ will therefore come from heaven. He will come at the end of the world, in glory, at the last day. For there will be an end to this world, and the created world will be made new.