Are your Advent rockets fueled and ready to go?
Advent season reflects on the three comings of Christ
By Patricia Kasten
Compass Associate Editor
"Three, two, one - lift-off!"
We are about to enter the space-time continuum of Advent - which is something like a three-stage rocket blasting us toward eternity.
Advent begins the church year - that preparation time which leads us to the Christmas season when we celebrate Emmanuel, God with Us.
Advent comes from a Latin word - advenire - which means an arrival. An adventus in ancient Rome was a big event; someone special was coming. First the adventus was for one of the Roman gods - with a special statue arriving for the event. Once the emperors became viewed as semi-divine, it was Caesar who came.
When Christians began to mark Advent around the fifth century (it was not really formalized for the whole church for several more centuries), they also looked at it as an adventus - a time of preparing for a major arrival event: Christ's coming. They attended Mass more frequently, fasted and offered penance. It is much the same today; we too get our spiritual lives in order for Christ's coming at Christmas (Christ Mass).
The readings of the Advent season keep us in that frame of mind - both reminding us of Jesus' coming as the promised Messiah of the Scriptures and of his final coming as the King of Glory at the end of time.
As the Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us, "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" (no. 524).
That also means we exist in yet another time of anticipation - the one between the two comings of Christ: as a man in Bethlehem and as the Lord in glory.
Realizing that third expectant time shows us that Advent has three events; just like three stages of the booster rockets. The life of Jesus - his First Coming - shot all Christianity into orbit - just as our baptism into Christ did for each of us.
The power of the Risen Christ - which is sustained in us by the Spirit we received fully in Confirmation - fills us with the certain Pole Star of his Second Coming.
But Jesus was not only "God with Us" in Bethlehem and his life in Palestine. Nor is he only "God who come to us" at the end. He remains "God with Us." This reality is the third coming of Advent, the middle rocket if you will, the one that keeps us steady on the path to heaven.
The third coming of Advent - this in-between Coming of Christ - is his intimate and personal presence with each of us, every day.
St. Bernard of Clairvaux wrote about this third coming of Advent back in the 12th century, and his words are used every year in the Divine Office of Wednesday of the first week of Advent: "We know that there are three comings of the Lord. The third lies between the other two. It is invisible, while the other two are visible ... The intermediate coming is a hidden one; in it only the elect see the Lord within their own selves and they are saved ... Because this coming lies between the other two, it is like a road on which we travel from the first coming to the last."
We travel that Third Coming road with Jesus through those practices which we undertake more intensely during Advent, but which are there for us all year: the sacraments of Eucharist and reconciliation, and the celebration of liturgy. It is through these that the hidden coming of Jesus is made ever more clear in our own lives.
"Three, two, one." While Advent counts down to Christmas, we also realize that we are already well under way. The journey of Bethlehem began long ago and we are well started down the road to Christ's coming again in glory. "We have lift-off."
So, in reality, we also have "One, two, three," the parallel counting-up of Advent. Jesus came to us in time - the First Coming. Jesus will come to us again in glory - the Second Coming. And Jesus is God With Us now - on that road of third coming described by St. Bernard - ready to supply us with all the fuel and guidance needed to power our own personal journey to eternity.
As we approach Advent, we should ask ourselves - "Are all systems go?"
(Sources: The Harper Collins Dictionary of Catholicism; Catholic Online at www.catholic.org; Catechism of the Catholic Church)