What Is the Church Really Saying with Advent?

What Is the Church Really Saying with Advent?

The Advent season — and the Third Sunday of Advent, or Rejoicing Sunday, in particular! — is both a joyful and a difficult season, a season of preparing for the Coming of the Lord. “Prepare the way of the Lord!” St. John the Baptist cries out in today’s Gospel. “Prepare for His Coming!” 

What is difficult about Advent is that the Church is asking us to prepare for all three of the Lord’s Comings. Two Sundays ago, the Gospel reminded us that Jesus is on His way, that He is really coming and when He arrives it will be the end of time, His Second Coming. Are we ready for that? There is a coming at Christmas, His First Coming 2,000 years ago, Jesus’ birthday, which we are trying to prepare to celebrate with renewed gratitude and joy and outreach to the poor. Then there is His In-Between Coming in the everyday events of our lives, and especially in Holy Communion at Sunday and Weekday Mass — a constant and worthwhile battle to stay prepared for in the midst of our stress-filled holidays. 

All three Comings of Jesus are inseparable: we use the First and the In-Between Comings of the Lord to help us stay sharp, ready to receive all that He wants to give us at His Ultimate Second Coming at the end of the world (or the end of my/our world — whichever comes first)! We don’t want to get so caught up in the drama of our ordinary lives that we become distracted from (or worse, indifferent to) the greatest drama: Jesus’ Second Coming!

This is the difficult part. The joy in the midst of all of this is that our stress-filled preparation is a marriage prep program. What!? “Are you serious??” Totally. Our whole life is one long (or shorter) marriage prep course — marriage with God! And just as the joyful longing or ache for full union with each other makes all the stress of preparation period totally worthwhile for a human couple, so too with each of us and God!

In the Theology of the Body, St. John Paul II places extra emphasis on the marriage between Adam and Eve being the primordial or original sacrament that sets up all the other sacraments and culminates in the Great Mystery or Sacrament of Christ’s union with His Bride the Church. 

“For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This is a great mystery, and I mean in reference to Christ and the Church” (Ephesians 5:31-32). And throughout his 129 addresses he keeps coming back to the Trinitarian heart of all life, which he learned from St John of the Cross: 1) we truly find ourselves only when we make a sincere, free, total, faithful and fruitful gift of ourselves to others; 2) the best image of that sincere gift of self in this visible world of ours is the one-flesh union of husband and wife in marriage; 3) the source of that amazing human spousal love is the total, self-giving love of each of the persons of the Blessed Trinity.

And here is the Church herself saying essentially the same thing in her Sacred Liturgy on one of her most solemn feasts, Epiphany:

“Today the Bridegroom claims his bride, the Church, since Christ has washed her sins away in Jordan’s waters; the Magi hasten with their gifts to the royal wedding; and the wedding guests rejoice, for Christ has changed water into wine, alleluia” (antiphon for the Canticle of Zechariah, Morning Prayer, Liturgy of the Hours for the Solemnity of Epiphany).

When was the last time you heard an animated talk at Mass about how Jesus’ Baptism was all about not Him being washed and cleaned up, but about Him cleansing His bride to get her ready for her marriage…with Him! Or, when did you hear anyone talk about how the Magi were hurrying toward Bethlehem because they wanted to bring wedding gifts to this newborn Child. Or, that the wedding at Cana was a foreshadowing of our own wedding….with God?

Well, that really is what the Church is saying! And to prepare for that, is both incredibly painful, and amazingly joyful. So, fasten your seatbelt…and hang on!

Fr. Thomas Koller, OCD, is a Carmelite friar and priest of the Discalced Carmelite Province of California. He has a Licentiate degree in Sacred Scripture from the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome and is a seminary formator and professor of Scripture at Mount Angel Seminary in Mt. Angel, Oregon. Fr. Thomas has attended some courses at TOBI.

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