December 4, 2011
The Second Sunday of AdventWe live between Christ's two advents in the flesh, and our life as Christians is defined by them. He has already come to us in great humility, to suffer and die for our redemption; and he shall come again is glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead. And what we shall be judged by at his second advent is whether, and how, we have lived by the grace and mercy of his first.
Advent is preeminently the season of preparation. The world both helps and hinders this task. The sending of cards, the purchase and wrapping of presents, the decorating of trees, the stringing of lights, the singing of seasonal music, the preparation of food and drink, the reunions of families and friends, the opening of doors on Advent calendars and even the expectation of Santa Claus (fore he is, after all, St. Nicholas, Bishop of Myra, and witness to Christ's divinity). All of this is, or can be, an authentic part of Christian life, an element in the preparation for Christ's advent.
Yet all these customs can also become a way of ignoring and forgetting the reality of his advent; a way of turning up the volume of this world's noise to drown out the Angel choirs. It is a question of attitude and outlook.
There is only one way of dealing with Christ is coming, and that is by Christ himself. Christ has three advents. His first advent is in the flesh. His second advent is in judgment. In this third intermediate advent is in the mind and heart of mankind. Here and now, in the virtue of his first coming, and in preparation for his second, he comes into our minds and hearts through his Spirit working in them through the Word and Sacrament he has entrusted to his Church.
Above all, he comes to us in the Sacrament of the Altar, the Holy Communion. Each time is in advent of Christ. In every such celebration we are faced with a moment of judgment and mercy, an opportunity and a challenge. It is a question of being ready and able to receive what it is Christ wills to give. If we are not ready and able to receive what he wills to give, which means to say we do not desire what he desires for us, then the Sacrament is a sign of judgment, a sign of what we are not and do not want to be. But if we do desire what he desires to give us, then it is to us a sign of mercy, of what he is making us, and what we will to be made.
The Church therefore has always taught the necessity of preparation for Communion. In earlier centuries, preparation for Communion could be an elaborate, meticulous process of self-examination, repentance and gratitude. In the 17th and 18th centuries, manuals of devotion were published to guide this preparation, which assumed a process extending over several days, and thus undertaken infrequently with Communion being taken maybe two or three times a year at most.
After the 19th century, frequency of Communion gradually increased, and from the 1930s, weekly communion became more and more common, and communicants’ manuals of preparation at first kept pace. But by the 1980s, the very notion of preparation for Communion had faded away. The requirement of being baptized, let alone a general confession and absolution, is viewed in the modern time with this distaste from many quarters.
It is hard to prepare for Communion because it's hard to face the truth. In many ways it's equally as hard to prepare during Advent for Christmas. But it's really not that complicated. We have to merely accept what we know God demands of us, and to renounce what we know he forbids and thus be sorry.
There are websites out there that on Christmas Eve will track Santa's progress as he goes around the world and gives out toys to all the little boys and girls who have been good in the previous year. Many children probably run to the website every few moments or seconds, with their excitement heightening when they see the sleigh pulled by reindeer is nearing North America. Their imaginations track him to their state, to their town, and even to their own home. Some would even claim they hear the reindeer on the roof. The expectations of young boys and girls are unlimited. So many good things are about to happen. As Christians we are called to be like eager children who are waiting for Santa, but in our case, waiting for Christ's second coming.
If we expect Christ's presence, we will find it because God is always present to us, whether in the Holy Eucharist or in our hearts. From the beginning of time God has wrought awesome deeds we could not hope for. God enriched us in every way and assured us that we are not lacking in any spiritual gift.
In the many preparations, sights and sounds of the season, our watching and waiting would quickly become dulled. As humans we need that sight, that sound, and that smell to help heighten our expectation and eagerness for the divine presence that will come to us on Christmas Day. Our expectations must open us to recognize Jesus among us now, working for our good in so many ways. We must also recognize his presence in ourselves as we strive to do good for others.
In the Gospel we are told to prepare the way of the Lord. Just what is the way Lord? It is not only a life of holiness and devotion, but also a life of repentance and forgiveness, a life of hearing the glad tidings of God’s salvation and announcing this good news to the world. This is the way John the Baptist lived; this is the way of life into which Christ baptizes us with the Holy Spirit. Left to our own design, we cannot hope to prepare for or bring ourselves to this kind of living. It is God who shepherds us, feeds us, gathers us, is faithful to divine promises, and baptizes us with the Holy Spirit. The work of salvation is God's. But ours is the preparation and being open to divine initiative.
Like John the Baptist, we must be voices crying out to prepare the way of the Lord. Salvation has already come. What we do now with this salvation is critical. It is what John the Baptist was doing when he announced Christ's first coming. The way we live our lives makes a difference, not only for our salvation, but because we are to announce God's kingdom to others.
The job of John the Baptist is transferred to us. The most important announcement in preparation for Christ’s coming, is living our lives in such a way that we are without spot or blemish before him. The fullness of this way of the Lord will only come when this world will pass away.
By living in this life we announce the Christ has come and brought us salvation. All we need to do is respond with faithfulness, for by our holiness and devotion, we are not just waiting for but actually hastening the coming of the day of the Lord. It is up to us to manage those activities and sights and smells that come with this season, and allow them to work for us in our advantage. To allow them to lead us to the true reason of the season. All those lights, all those gifts, all those sights and sounds are not what's bad; what's bad is how we allow them to distract us from the true meaning of what takes place on Christmas Day. Alternately, if we allow them to heighten our expectation of the Christ child, then in our miserably human way, we are calling out to Christ. Let us prepare the way of the Lord!
God Love You +
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, Ca.