The time is chiefly a celebration of “the coming of God” in ultimate triumph. The first reading of the first Sunday of Advent from the prophet Isaiah (2:1-5) sends chills up and down our spines. The prophet describes a beautiful and rather unexpected vision of universal salvation, justice and peace, not only for Jerusalem and the Holy Land, but for all of humanity:
“In days to come, the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest mountain and raised above the hills. All nations shall stream toward it; many peoples shall come and say: ‘Come, let us climb the Lord’s mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob, that He may instruct us in His ways, and we may walk in His paths. For from Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem’ ” (vv 2-3).
The Isaiah reading is very fitting to begin the Advent season, for we are truly on pilgrimage during the next few weeks — making our long and tedious journey up to the Lord, in order that we may pay Him homage and recognize in the Child of Bethlehem just to what degree God would go to show us His love.
In the second reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans (13:11-14), the Apostle to the Gentiles says that Christians claim to be people of the new day that will dawn with the return of Christ. In verse 11-12, Paul exhorts the Christians in Rome that this is the hour to awake from their sleep… “for our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed; the night is advanced, the day is at hand. Let us then throw off the works of darkness (and) put on the armour of light.”
The Greek word for sleep is hypnos, and while we cannot attribute the full notion of being “hypnotized” to Paul himself in this text, it is nonetheless true that we can become so accustomed to the normalcy of evil that we live under its spell. It is good for us during Advent to ask: “What are the hypnotic conditions that we experience without our consciousness of them?”
Time is central to the Christian celebration of Advent. This season reminds us that the mystery of faith is not complete until Jesus’ Second Coming. We are living in this in-between time of Resurrection-Ascension-Pentecost and the time of the Parousia. How do we deal with the issue of time? Christ has given us warning of such an event coming.
We need to be ready and we need to be awake. Just like a security alarm wakes up a homeowner, Advent wakes up Christians who are in danger of sleeping through their lives. If we are no longer asking the hard questions and if we are no longer getting our answers from God through His Scriptures, then it is time to wake up!
Advent asks us to be aware of responsibilities and see to their fulfillment. Advent challenges us to attend to relationships, reach out to the needy, cherish the gift of human life and make time for prayer.
The Second Coming thus becomes an event that gives purpose and energy to our every breath and pulse here and now.
As we enter into Advent, our thoughts naturally focus on the hope and expectation of the coming of Christ. Christ came to us first as an unborn child, tiny, vulnerable and in need of protection and care of His mother. Advent is an opportunity for us to focus both on the hope and promise of new life in Christ that we celebrate at Christmas but also to acknowledge the sad fact that world-wide there are an estimated 50 million abortions performed each year.
We have justified our reasons and means for destroying life in the womb because it disturbs and upsets us, forcing us to change our way of living. What are the hypnotic conditions against human life that we experience without our consciousness of them?
As we begin this holy season of longing and waiting for the Messiah, let us take stock of human life and not become like the people of Noah’s time who were so caught up in everyday affairs that they failed to take precautions against the flood. Advent reminds us that it is no longer business as usual. Something new is about to happen.
(Fr. Rosica CSB is Chief Executive Officer of Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation, and English Language Attaché to the Holy See Press Office.)