In the readings from Sacred Scripture throughout the season of Advent we hear much about the twofold character of this holy season. We begin Advent reflecting on the fact that Christ not only came as a little baby, born in a stable cave and laid in a manger (a feeding trough for animals), but, as we used to say in the Sacred Liturgy prior to the introduction of the present Roman Missal, “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.” Advent is a time to reflect on the coming of Christ, His first coming as well as His Second Coming, and his willingness to come into our hearts, and indeed to be physically present with us in the Holy Eucharist.
The season of Advent is also a time of waiting and expectation, and it is supposed to be. Outside of these walls, many people in the secular world-and for that matter no small number of our separated Brothers and Sisters-have been essentially celebrating Christmas full throttle, with decorations in the stores and music on the radio and parties throughout the month. No wonder people are tired of Christmas by the time of the Feast of St. Stephen, and take down all their decorations on the 26th of December. They’ve been busy taking Christmas for weeks or even months before the Holy Day and Holy Season are meant to be celebrated. A friend of our family who is a completely secular person, by all accounts an unbeliever, has noticed this for many years, and she refers to this unfortunate phenomenon of congealed holidays as “Hallowankmas.”
If you’ve truly lived a Catholic Advent, you’re still in the waiting mode, and now the readings for today bring us around to a discussion of the coming of Christ into the world. Not only do they tell us that He is coming, but the writer to the Hebrews tells us why. The prophet Micah makes it very clear that the Messiah, the Christ, is going to come into the world to save his people. His origin is from old, Micah tells us, “from ancient times.” The Lord will “come and stand firm and Shepherd His flock.” And where will the Messiah enter the world? The prophet Micah names a place: Bethlehem-Ephrathah, the City of David. Appropriately, in Hebrew “Bethlehem” means “House of Bread,” and it is in the House of Bread that the Bread of Life is born into the world.
The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews tells us in very plain language why Christ came into the world. The law requires a sacrifice for sin, but God takes no delight in sin offerings. Christ came to offer a perfect sacrifice when he offered himself. When we offer Sacrifice to God, rather than offer goats and rams and bulls, as the Mosaic law required (because there was no such thing as a perfect sacrifice), in the Eucharist we can offer the perfect sacrifice of Christ, which we commemorate and re-present at every Mass, because He offered Himself. The writer to the Hebrews lays it out perfectly, that the reason to celebrate the Incarnation of Christ is in fact His Passion, Death, and Resurrection.
Today’s Gospel is taken from the lengthy 1st Chapter of Luke, and provides us with a scriptural account of one of the great mysteries of the Rosary and of our faith, the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary to her cousin Elizabeth, who was with child at the time herself with the Lord’s cousin and forerunner, St John the Baptist. The Gospel tells us that when Elizabeth heard the Blessed Mother’s greeting “the infant in my womb leapt for joy.” This shows us the spirit of joyful expectation that we should have all through this Season of Advent that is coming to a conclusion as we prepare to celebrate the Lord’s birth. It also shows us that to truly celebrate the birth of the Savior, we have to recognize Him for who He is, not who the world says He is. Saint Elizabeth recognized immediately that Mary was “the Mother of my Lord,” and that the Mother of the Lord had come to her. She knew that Mary was the mother of the Lord because she knew that the child in Mary’s womb was the Lord, was the Messiah.
Perhaps the most telling part of this Gospel passage is that the infant leapt in Elizabeth’s womb as soon as Mary’s greeting reached her ears. This means that the first person recorded in Sacred Scripture to recognize that the Incarnation was real and that the Lord was come to His People was an unborn child. This ought to be a lesson to us never to discount the unborn. John was spreading the message of Jesus Christ even in his mother’s womb.
St. Elizabeth said to the Blessed Virgin Mary “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.” I am not, to quote a priest that I have a great deal of respect for, “an Advent Nazi.” I don’t think that there is any crime and listening to that occasional Christmas Carol during Advent, or tuning in the all-Christmas music radio station in your car on the way to work a few times, or listening to the all-Christmas music channel on your favorite music streaming application if you use those. Advent, however, is a season of waiting, and there is a reason for that.
For literally thousands of years, the Hebrew people waited for the coming of the Messiah. All of the great Hebrew prophets foretold His coming over and over again. But the years and indeed the ages of time rolled by, and He did not come. Many people began to wonder if He would ever come. When He finally did come, so many of God’s people did not recognize Him for who He was. To this very day, people who should recognize Jesus Christ for who he was and is fail to see the message. The Gospel tells us, however, that Mary and Elizabeth, Zechariah and Joseph, understood who the Messiah was and they believed.
Just as the people of God in the Old Covenant waited for the coming of the Messiah, in the Season of Advent we have been called to remember that Jesus made another promise to his followers before He left this world. Jesus promised that he would return (cf. Acts 1:11), and this time he would come in power and great Glory, (cf. Matthew 24:29:31) marking the end of all things as we know them and that he would “make all things new.” (cf. Revelation 21:1-8) Our world is in the state that it is in because of our own sin and selfishness, and if you don’t believe that all you have to do is read the headlines. We have heard for 2,000 years that the Messiah is coming back, the expectation of that final coming fills the Apostolic letters of the New Testament. (cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18) However, just as many people through the Ages lived and died without seeing the coming of the Messiah for themselves, the ages have run and our forebears in faith have not seen the return of Christ in that final consummation that he promised just yet.
St. Peter warns us that many people will say “where is the promise of His coming,” and a great many will cease to believe that he is coming at all. (cf. 2 Peter 3:1-7) But like Mary and Elizabeth, we are called to believe that what has been spoken to us by the Lord will be fulfilled, and then one day He will return. We do not know the day or the hour that the Lord will return, for Jesus told the Apostles themselves that it was not for them to know the times and the seasons. (cf. Acts 1:6-11) We can rest assured however, that if he came the first time, and we believe it is so, He will return just as He said.
As we conclude Advent and prepare to celebrate and commemorate the first coming of the Lord into a world that had lost its way (just as the world has today), every one of us should ask ourselves: If Jesus were to come back today, would I know Him? Would He count me among those that He knows? If Jesus comes back today, are you ready to meet Him? One day we all will meet Him, let us all be ready and waiting.