As we begin the Advent season this Sunday, it’s a good time to take a step back and take stock of the season, so as to better understand what lies ahead and how we can best enter into the season. So let’s discuss here, then, what Advent is all about!
To begin with, what does the word “advent” even mean? The word advent means “coming” or “to come”. It’s also related to the word in the Latin for “arrival”. So the word advent is about something coming or arriving. What is it that’s coming, that’s arriving? The Church has used this word advent to signify that time of the year in which we await the coming, the arrival, of Jesus Christ. And so Advent is the roughly four weeks of preparation for Christmas, in which we celebrate the birth of the God-man Messiah. Advent is awaiting the coming, the arrival, of the baby Jesus. And isn’t that such a remarkable, beautiful, comforting, you name it image to meditate on: the Christ child in the manger of the cave on Christmas day with Mary and Joseph!
Advent, though, is also associated with another coming of Jesus Christ: His Second Coming. So then, Advent is the season to prepare for Christmas, when Christ’s first coming to us is remembered as we ponder that great mystery of the Incarnation, wherein our Lord humbled Himself, coming to us as a little baby to free us from sin. While the season also directs the mind and heart to the 2nd Coming of Christ at the end of time, in which, as we profess in the Creed at Mass on Sundays, that Jesus will come again to judge the living and the dead.
Additionally, there is also a third coming involved in Advent that we’re preparing for, perhaps the most mysterious and most neglected of them all: the coming of Christ into the soul. Peter of Blois, 12th century writer, puts it this way: “There are three comings of our Lord; the first in the flesh, the second in the soul, the third at the judgement. The first was at midnight, according to those words of the Gospel: At midnight there was a cry made, Lo the Bridegroom cometh! But this first coming is long since past, for Christ has been seen on the earth and has conversed among men. We are now in the second coming, provided only we are such as that He may thus come to us; for He has said that if we love him, He will come unto us and will take up His abode with us. So that this second coming is full of uncertainty to us; for who, save the Spirit of God, knows them that are of God? They that are raised out of themselves by the desire of heavenly things, know indeed when He comes; but whence He cometh, or whither He goeth, they know not. As for the third coming, it is most certain that it will be, most uncertain when it will be; for nothing is more sure than death, and nothing less sure than the hour of death. When they shall say, peace and security, says the apostle, then shall sudden destruction come upon them, as the pains upon her that is with child, and they shall not escape. So that the first coming was humble and hidden, the second is mysterious and full of love, the third will be majestic and terrible. In His first coming, Christ was judged by men unjustly; in His second, He renders us just by His grace; in His third, He will judge all things with justice. In His first, a lamb; in His last, a lion; in the one between the two, the tenderest of friends.” So Advent is preparation for a threefold coming of Christ, threefold because He comes at three different times and in three different ways:
He came in the past as a babe in the stable cave of Bethlehem
He comes in the present as grace in our souls
And He comes in the future as the Judge at the end of time
All of which three comings of Christ are interrelated. As Saint Bernard of Clairvaux says in a sermon of his on Advent: “In the first coming, He comes in the flesh and in weakness; in the second, He comes in spirit and in power; in the third, He comes in glory and in majesty; and the second coming is the means whereby we pass from the first to the third.” So during this time, we are admonished to prepare ourselves worthily to celebrate the anniversary of the Lord’s coming into the world as the Incarnate God of love. Thus to make our souls fitting abodes for the redeemer coming in grace, in no greater way, of course, than in the Eucharist. And thereby to make ourselves ready for His final coming as Judge, be it at our death or the end of the world, should we be alive come that time.