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Why do Catholics Celebrate Advent?

Fr. Joel Being Catholic, Church meets World

Everywhere you go these days, you see Christmas decorations and hear Christmas music. Everywhere except a Catholic Church. We have purple decorations and keep singing “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” The Church is not anti-Christmas; we are just celebrating the forgotten season of Advent.

The word advent comes from the Latin ad-venio meaning to come to, come towards, or come near. It is usually translated coming or arrival. It is a season to prepare ourselves for the coming of our King. Jesus’ birthday is such an important event that it is a national holiday all over the world and the basis of the (almost) universal dating system. Obviously, Jesus is a big deal. But let’s face it: it’s too late for Jesus to be born in your town – his birth was 2,015 years ago this December. So what are we really preparing for? Our church gives us an answer in the Mass preface for Advent:

It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation,
always and everywhere to give you thanks,
Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God, through Christ our Lord.
For he assumed at his first coming the lowliness of human flesh,
and so fulfilled the design you formed long ago,
and opened for us the way to eternal salvation,
that, when he comes again in glory and majesty and all is at last made manifest,
we who watch for that day may inherit the great promise in which now we dare to hope.

So Advent is about two comings of Christ. He already came the first time, as the world watched and waited for a savior and God fulfilled all our hopes in Christ. But he is coming again, as the world continues to watch and wait for a savior and becomes more desperate every day. Just as God fulfilled our longing by sending us Jesus, so he will fulfill our every hope by sending Jesus again to bring us home to the Kingdom of God. Just as the ancients had to be prepared for the coming of the Messiah, so we must be prepared for the second coming of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Christ has come, but Christ is coming again. We know that Jesus is coming for each of us, and he is coming soon (Rev. 22:20). Are you ready to meet him?

Jesus comes to meet us daily, in the ordinary experiences of everyday life. St. Bernard calls this the third coming of Christ. We might call it the 1.5 coming of Christ because it happens between the first and second comings. Jesus loves us, calls us, leads us, and invites us every day to welcome Him as the King of Kings and the Lord of our life. If we open our hearts to the daily encounter with Jesus Christ, we do not have to fear the Second coming. We will already be ready, watching and waiting. This is what Advent is all about. Come, Lord Jesus!

From a sermon by St. Bernard, abbot

We know that there are three comings of the Lord. The third lies between the other two. It is invisible, while the other two are visible. In the first coming he was seen on earth, dwelling among men; he himself testifies that they saw him and hated him. In the final coming all flesh will see the salvation of our God, and they will look on him whom they pierced. The intermediate coming is a hidden one; in it only the elect see the Lord within their own selves, and they are saved. In the first coming our Lord came in our flesh and in our weakness; in this middle coming he comes in spirit and in power; in the final coming he will be seen in glory and majesty.

Because this coming lies between the other two, it is like a road on which we travel from the first coming to the last. In the first, Christ was our redemption; in the last, he will appear as our life; in this middle coming, he is our rest and consolation.

In case someone should think that what we say about this middle coming is sheer invention, listen to what our Lord himself says: If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him. There is another passage of Scripture which reads: He who fears God will do good, but something further has been said about the one who loves, that is, that he will keep God’s word. Where is God’s word to be kept? Obviously in the heart, as the prophet says: I have hidden your words in my heart, so that I may not sin against you.

Keep God’s word in this way. Let it enter into your very being, let it take possession of your desires and your whole way of life. Feed on goodness, and your soul will delight in its richness. Remember to eat your bread, or your heart will wither away. Fill your soul with richness and strength.

If you keep the word of God in this way, it will also keep you. The Son with the Father will come to you. The great Prophet who will built the new Jerusalem will come, the one who makes all things new. This coming will fulfill what is written: As we have born the likeness of the earthly man, we shall also bear the likeness of the heavenly man. Just as Adam’s sin spread through all mankind and took hold of all, so Christ, who created and redeemed all, will glorify all, once he takes possession of all.

Quoted in The Liturgy of the Hours, Vol. 1, , pp. 168-170 (New York, Catholic Book Publishing Co., 1975)