As I sought inspiration for this bulletin letter beginning the season of Advent, I decided to take a look at the Catechism. There I found three points worth reflecting on.
“The coming of God’s Son to earth is an event of such immensity that God willed to prepare for it over centuries. He makes everything converge on Christ: all the rituals and sacrifices, figures and symbols of the “First Covenant”. He announces him through the mouths of the prophets who succeeded one another in Israel. Moreover, he awakens in the hearts of the pagans a dim expectation of this coming.”
It is incredible to think that God took centuries to prepare his chosen people and, to some extent, even the pagan world for the coming of Christ. For example, Christians have long seen God’s hand at work in the prophecies of the pagan Sibyls whose messages are seen as foretelling the coming of the Christ. This is why their images are depicted in the Sistine Chapel along with prophets from the Old Testament. In addition to this centuries-long preparation for the coming of the Christ, a more proximate preparation was made by means of the Baptist.
“St. John the Baptist is the Lord’s immediate precursor or forerunner, sent to prepare his way. ‘Prophet of the Most High,’ John surpasses all the prophets, of whom he is the last. He inaugurates the Gospel, already from his mother’s womb welcomes the coming of Christ, and rejoices in being ‘the friend of the bridegroom,’ whom he points out as ‘the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.’ Going before Jesus ‘in the spirit and power of Elijah,’ John bears witness to Christ in his preaching, by his Baptism of conversion, and through his martyrdom.”
The ancient anticipation of the Savior’s coming was heightened and made immediate through the greatest of all prophets, John the Baptist. He encouraged those who heard him to prepare their hearts and lives for the arrival of the Messiah who was already hidden in their midst. Therefore, we see a double expectancy which God fosters in the hearts of his people, one ancient and deep, the other immediate and intense.
“When the Church celebrates the liturgy of Advent each year, she makes present this ancient expectancy of the Messiah, for by sharing in the long preparation for the Savior’s first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desire for his second coming. By celebrating the precursor’s birth and martyrdom, the Church unites herself to his desire: ‘He must increase, but I must decrease.’“
Therefore, our purpose in celebrating Advent is twofold. First, we enter into and renew our sense of expectancy for the coming of the Lord. Second, we prepare ourselves spiritually to receive him when he does come.
Praised be Jesus Christ! Now and forever!