Church of the Holy Cross
6 December 2009, Santa Cruz
“Properantes Adventum Diei Dei” (Hastening the Coming of the Day of God) is my bishop’s motto. It is from 2 Peter 3 and I would like to read verses 10-13 to you: “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and the works that are upon it will be burned up. Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of persons ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be kindled and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire! But according to his promise we wait for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.”
It may be a little different perspective than what we are used to thinking about when we talk about Advent but 2 Peter and my motto are part of what Advent is about as well: waiting for and trying to hurry up the coming of the Day of God. Advent is expectation, but it is also action.
Catholic teaching is clear with regard to this beautiful season which begins each year over again the liturgical cycle of feasts of our Lord. Advent we learned at home and in catechism, and as we hear each year on the 1st Sunday of Advent, is about Christ’s coming, about His two big comings and His one little coming for a total of three comings of Christ: 1. Jesus came into our world, born of Mary the Virgin, in the glory of the Incarnation, God become Man to save us from our sins; 2. (and this is the little coming we talk about) Jesus, the Risen Christ, Who comes into the hearts of all believers by grace and the Holy Spirit; 3. Jesus’ coming again in glory at the end of time to judge the living and the dead: that’s what our passage from 2 Peter 3 is talking about. “… waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be kindled and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire!”
This first season of the liturgical year, Advent teaches us that Jesus’ coming in glory at the end of time must be celebrated with an eye to the manger in Bethlehem, otherwise we might faint dead away out of fear before the One Who is to judge both the living and the dead. In Advent, Jesus’ great Second Coming is the one for which we prepare by remembering His First Coming among us as a Man. Advent is very much about preparing our hearts. Each year we use Advent to recall Jesus’ First Coming; it is a privileged time of active preparation for the Final Judgment, which we will all have to face. By striving for holiness or godliness we prepare and at the same time we can hasten, we can hurry up, the coming of the Day in which this world’s works will be tested by fire in the furnace of God’s burning love.
How do we best keep or celebrate Advent? A little parang here a little Christmas fete there, being nice instead of naughty, because you better watch out… No, that is fine as far as it goes, but it is not even half of what Advent is all about. In Advent we can’t really just keep it light. As sweet and lovely as the sentimental can be, Advent is much more. Beyond all others this is the Church season of the heart, the noble heart, the tender and real heart. Advent focuses on the person of Jesus and His love for us. It focuses on Jesus’ heart and the thoughts of His heart which are sacred beyond all measure. The things of our hearts too and our relationship to Jesus, born at Bethlehem, a Man like us in all things but sin, are likewise at the top of the scale when it comes to importance. No other season, really, gives us such ready access to the person of Jesus and His unbounded love for each and every one of us singly and by name.
Advent is to be celebrated as much at home as it is here in church. Advent folklore and tradition, its customs and joys come in great part from central Europe. Just think about the Advent Wreath or those neat Advent Calendars with a different window to open for each day of the season! Wreath or no wreath, special countdown calendar or no calendar, Advent is family time; it is time for family prayer.
I have all kinds of sympathy for folks who have a hard time with family prayer. At my house we always prayed before meals, but as I remember we had a rough time organizing most everything else. We could never have made the cover of a magazine for the family rosary or honestly been chosen to be put on a poster at the entrance of church to promote that devotion. When it was time for the family rosary, it always seemed as though some one of the babies was already over-tired and shrieking or somebody not so small was protesting, objecting or messing around instead of praying, making Dad’s blood boil, if nothing else. With the one little prayer used to light each week’s candle on the little Advent wreath we kept on the supper table we always seemed to do better. Perhaps because we were a larger family and harder to organize, individual time and prayer with each child went better, like the help from Mom with our bedtime prayers. Later in Advent, also a big hit was the appearance in the living room of our little crib scene (cardboard barn with straw glued to the roof and a drop down front with all the brightly painted plaster of Paris figurines glued to it and Mary, Baby Jesus and Joseph with the ox and the donkey inside).
Advent: O come O come, Emmanuel! Advent is at once profound and easy. To make a good Advent just takes a couple minutes at home away from other things: a couple minutes for Bethlehem with an eye to eternity; a couple minutes to open our hearts to Jesus to let Him into our lives today and better prepare for eternal life with Him in Heaven and for the arrival of new heavens and a new earth when He will be all in all. Advent is practice on how really to live my faith, with a little song, a little light, with lots of love and, above all, with a contemplative, that is, thinking awareness of who Jesus is for me and my life, day by day and for all eternity.
Advent is more than simple reminiscing. For a Catholic the work or activity of remembering is never as simple as recalling the past. When we set down roots and recall history, we are always laying the foundations or establishing the basis for further growth. The Gospel accounts of Jesus’ birth and childhood, no less than His teaching during the three years of His public ministry leading up to His suffering and death on the Cross are not a matter of simple lessons to be kept in mind; they are a foundation; they provide our vantage point for living and being today. Recalling Bethlehem is not a trip down memory lane or a simple history lesson, but rather a source of light to help me situate myself in this world with my heart set on the world to come.
I really think that those Fathers and Doctors of the Early Church had it right, who put the emphasis for this season on preparing well our hearts to receive Jesus at Christmas. Just as Bethlehem can reassure us to face the Last Judgment, so inviting Jesus to come into our hearts and finding Him there can also make us want to hasten the coming of the Day of God.
Advent is not Lent. How specifically in Advent do I prepare my heart for Christ to come and enter there? In Lent we are encouraged to pray more, to fast (give up eating so much), and make sacrifices for the poor – almsgiving/charity. How is Advent different from Lent? The liturgical color, purple or violet, is the same, but the intensity, the duration and the focus are different. Lent is meant to be more intense than Advent and it is meant to center first and foremost on renewing the grace of our Baptism within us. In Advent, we don’t look so much to the hill of Calvary as to the cave at Bethlehem: we gain a vision from Bethlehem of human and family life in abject poverty, stripped of all show, reduced to its most essential. Advent is a meditation on how an extended family circle of believers (cousins: Elizabeth, Zechariah and their son, John the Baptist, Mary and Joseph) prepared for the coming of the Messiah, the Savior of the World.
In Advent, real life is caught up into God’s great mystery. Regular folks, like Elizabeth, Zechariah and Joseph, are invited by God’s special messengers, His angels, to cooperate in His plan to restore the sons and daughters of Adam to grace and communion with the Heavenly Father in and through the Incarnation of His Son, Jesus. Zechariah, the Old Testament priest, struggled with this good news but after a period of enforced silence came around and received his voice back at the birth of his son John, so as to be able to prophesy about the Messiah of whom John would be the precursor. Not everyone among you may need to seek out some self-imposed silence, like in the case of Zechariah, such that the mystery of God’s plan for each of us individually might sink in, but finding some quiet time each day is a healthy idea for bettering your Advent in preparation for Christmas. In Advent, real life is caught up into God’s great mystery. Seek some distraction-free space for yourself and let Bethlehem sink in; let our individual importance in God’s eyes and in His plan, as evidenced in the coming among us of His Son, have its effect on how you live and move.
Joseph struggled a bit too over the mysterious pregnancy of his highly respected fiancé, but by the grace of God Joseph’s faith, hope and love conquered and this Old Testament man’s faith became the legendary pattern for every Christian layman, husband and father. Joseph had carpentry work to do; he had all the concerns typical of a man in the world trying to get ready for marriage; Joseph still found time for prayer and thereby was able to find answers to his puzzlement and anguish. Advent is meant as a privileged time for sorting things out and helping you get ready for eternity. Seeking God and His Will for my life in prayer at different moments in the day is a necessary compliment to Mass each and every Sunday.
Mary is crystal clear and receptive to God’s call through the archangel Gabriel to become the Mother of God’s Son. She is Advent in all its beauty and we look to her to see how we should celebrate these four weeks so as to receive Jesus and from our hearts and lives manifest Him to a waiting world. Letting Christ in and carrying Him in our hearts is the way, the best and only way, to prepare ourselves for heavenly glory. A consciously lived Advent, a contemplative Advent, will not make you anyone’s guru or sage, but it might make Baby Jesus and His destiny more a part of you; it might give you the confidence to live daily with a smile. An Advent with the Blessed Virgin Mary might make you as eager as she was on this earth to be close to her Son in the joy of heaven.
Advent is a good time to go to confession. How is an Advent confession different from a Lenten one? There may be no difference, because confession is about sin, about wrongful acts or omissions. Nonetheless, if I make my examination of conscience in an Advent spirit, I might have more to say to the priest about shortcomings and failings in my duties to family, whether I be the father and husband, the wife and mother, or the child, the brother or sister. Thinking of the crucible of Christ’s burning love and the Last Day when I won’t be able to fake or hide anything anymore, an Advent confession might even have a chance of being more complete than my best Lenten one ever thought of being. St. Ephrem the Syrian trembled out of eagerness but also out of fear when thinking of the Last Judgment. He would certainly have known how to make a good Advent confession. Let me quote one of his famous passages on genuine contrition for sin: “Frightening and terrible is the day of your judgment, O our Savior, when secret sins will be revealed. Therefore I tremble, O Lord, and am embraced by terror, for my sins have exceeded all bounds. Be merciful to me according to your compassion, O good and kind-hearted One!”
As I said at the beginning, Advent teaches us that Jesus’ coming in glory at the end of time must be celebrated with an eye to the manger in Bethlehem, otherwise we might faint dead away out of fear before the One Who is to judge both the living and the dead. Open your heart to the Baby Jesus, receive the Man and thereby know your God in the Person of Jesus Christ! Advent: we celebrate His Coming to test the world by fire in the crucible of His love. “Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of persons ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be kindled and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire!”
“Properantes Adventum Diei Dei”
(Hastening the Coming of the Day of God)
That is my bishop’s motto. I know I need to try harder to live by it. That’s my Advent project. I’ll share it with you this Advent as an aid in your efforts to better wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior Jesus Christ.