As we journey through Advent, it is important to recall the definition of “Advent. The word “Advent” means “coming”. This afternoon (morning), I would like us to reflect on what St. Bernard called, the 3 advents or the 3 comings of Jesus.
The 1st Advent deals with the past. It is a historical event that occurred at Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago. In the 1st coming, Jesus, the 2nd person of the Trinity, the Son of God, was born, shared our humanity and lived on this earth for 33 years. The Church focuses on the 1st Advent from Dec. 17 – Dec. 24. That’s not the period we are in now. On this day, Dec. 5 (6), we ought not to focus on preparing to celebrate the 1st coming of the Lord at Christmas.
The 2nd Advent deals with the future. The 2nd coming of Jesus is also the last coming. It will occur at the end of time, at the end of the world. When the 2nd or final coming occurs, the general judgment of humanity will take place. The resurrection of the body will follow.
The Church focuses on the 2nd Advent from the 1st Sunday of Advent to Dec. 16. That’s the period we are in now. It is for this reason that today’s 2nd Reading deals with the theme of Christian vigilance as we wait for the Lord’s return in glory. Between now and Dec. 16, for the next 10 days, our focus ought to be on preparing for the end of the world and of our own individual lives.
What’s the best way to do that? The short answer is: let’s focus on the 3rd Advent.
The 3rd Advent deals with the present. The 3rd Advent is also called the Interior Advent or the personal coming of Jesus. The Church focuses on the Interior Advent every day of the year, including today.
What this means is that it is possible for God to come to us, to dwell in us and to unite himself to us in an intimate way on a daily basis. Fr. Henri Nouwen puts it this way: “God is a God of the present. God is always in the moment, be that moment hard or easy, joyful or painful.”
How can we experience and discover God right we are, here and now? I propose 2 steps for our consideration.
The 1st step is that we must prepare a path for the Lord’s coming. John the Baptist provides us with a blueprint of preparation that can make such an Interior Advent a daily reality. One of the writers of the website “Sacred Space” made these comments about today’s Gospel: “John the Baptist bluntly made the people aware of their sinfulness and called on them to ‘Repent’. ‘Repent’ here does not mean just being sorry for the past. It is a call for them to do much more than that, to change their ways. To ‘repent’ in the Gospel involves a radical transformation in our way of living. It means a conversion, a real turning around, a re-directing of one’s whole life.”
The key message is that we are to take an honest inventory of our lives. Bishop Robert Barron uses this analogy: “The spiritual life is an act of clearing the ground to enable the helicopter to land”. The helicopter wants to land, but the terrain is too mountainous, too uneven, too rough. The ground has to be cleared so that the helicopter can easily land.
Bishop Barron explains that God is like a helicopter who wants to land in our space. The spiritual life is all about clearing the rough landscape of our hearts and making the landing ground even so that God can come into our lives in a new way.
To use the vocabulary of the 1st Reading, the call of the Christian life is to knock down the mountains of our attachments to money, power and pleasure. The hills of our selfishness and self-interest need to be made low. The deep valleys of our indifference to God need to be filled in. We are called to smooth out the rough places of conflict, division and hatred. We are to make level the ways that lead to compassion and forgiveness.
To prepare the way of the Lord is to prepare the terrain of our hearts by removing all the obstacles that get in the way of the easy landing of our God who so desperately wants to come into our lives. This is what a complete change in our direction looks like. This is what conversion looks like. This is what it means to straighten out a highway for our God in our hearts. This is what preparation for the Lord’s coming looks like.
St. John Paul II stated that, as we stand before the manger scene, every person has a basic choice to make in regard to Jesus. Each of us must ask this question: “Do I want Christ to come to me today in a new way?”
Therefore, the 2nd step to experience this 3rd Advent, this daily Advent, is to intentionally, to deliberately and to explicitly invite and welcome Jesus into the centre of our lives. How will I know if Jesus is coming to me, is present and is living in my heart every day?
In 1 of his books, Fr. Nouwen wrote: “The whole message of the Gospel is to become like Jesus”. We are called to think and act like Jesus thinks and acts. As Fr. Raymond beautifully explained earlier, hope leads to peace; peace leads to joy; joy leads to love; love leads to Jesus. If we don’t have love, we don’t have Jesus. Therefore, the invitation for us this morning is to choose to love and serve others as Christ loved and served others.
Whenever we uphold the dignity of others and work for justice and peace, we are showing that we are thinking and acting like Jesus. Whenever we are committed to hospitality, inclusion and community building, our minds and hearts are the same as Jesus’ mind and heart. When we reach out to the least, the lost and the last, we are showing Christ-like love and service.
When we live in this way, we are saying, “Yes, Jesus, I want you to come to me today”. “Yes, I want my heart to be a Bethlehem this December 2020”. When we live in this way, every day is really and truly Advent for us.
As our Eucharist continues, let us ask God’s help to be committed to the 3rd Advent. If we take care of the 3rd Advent, the Advent on the inside, the other 2 will take care of themselves.
If we are faithful to the 3rd Advent, when Dec. 25 arrives, we will enter with full readiness into the celebration of the Nativity of the Lord. If we are faithful to the 3rd Advent, we will have nothing to fear when the end of our lives arrives, regardless when that may be.
Deacon Roland Muzzatti
December 5 – 6, 2020