December 2, 2018
Fr. Joseph Jacobi
Most Americans at this time of year are focused on celebrating the coming of the Son of God in history, as a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes in a manger. But the Church in her wisdom gives us the Season of Advent to remind us that there are actually two comings of the Son of God. Not many noticed his first coming in history, but there will be no way to miss his 2nd Coming when he is clothed in light and as radiant as the sun. Jesus in Luke’s Gospel uses a favorite title for himself, “Son of Man”, in speaking of His 2nd Coming: “…and they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with great power and glory.” (Luke 21:27)
The first part of Advent focuses on this 2nd Coming of the Lord Jesus and challenges us to a conversion of heart and mind to prepare for His return. For we find ourselves in an in-between time, living after the 1st coming of the Son of God and awaiting with hope his return in glory. Advent is not about acting like Jesus has not been born. Rather, because the Son of God has become one with humanity by his birth and life and death, we are to become more aware of how He visits us today in this world, which he has forever changed by becoming part of it. Because the Son of God has come in history we also know that he comes in mystery today by the working of His Spirit. This “ongoing coming” of the Lord can only be seen with the eyes of faith.
By becoming more attentive, more alert to the working of the Holy Spirit we can receive the Lord as he visits us each day and thus be ready to receive Him on the surprising day of His return in glory. The most common and most challenging way the Lord Jesus visits us today is through other human beings who call us out of ourselves to love them and care for them. St. Paul in his 1st letter to the Thessalonians gives us the perfect prescription for Advent: we need to “increase and abound in love for one another and for all.” (1 Thess. 3:12)
The challenge of increasing our love for each other, and especially the challenge of loving all people, is that instead of being turned outward toward others, we are often turned inward. Because of the anxieties of daily life, we are tempted to become self-absorbed. Instead of being loving toward the person who we pay for our Christmas gifts as we exit a store, we can either be rude to them or not even really acknowledge their existence.
The anxieties of daily life can cause us to be drowsy, to sleepwalk through our days and to not even notice the mysterious visits of the Lord of Life. The extreme effect of anxiety, when it turns into crushing worry and then hopelessness can even cause some to despair of life itself, to think the only solution is to take their life.
The Center for Disease Prevention and Control recently released a report on deaths in the United States for the year 2017. A startling statistic in this report is that the suicide rate is the highest it has been in at least half a century. More and more people are being destroyed by despair, swallowed up by hopelessness.
The antidote to despair is hope, and for Christians, we place our hope not in something, but in someone. Our hope is rooted in the person of Jesus Christ. We believe that he has come to set us free from attitudes which lead to despair. We believe that he was born that we might live life to the fullest and be set free from activities which enslave us.
Knowing Him and being loved by Him makes all the difference in the world, because he not only saves us from our sins but he reminds us that God our Father continues to give us another opportunity to love Him. Even more than that, that by the Son of God’s life, death and resurrection we are invited into life in God, that through baptism we have become adopted sons and daughters of God. United to the Son by the power of the Holy Spirit, we share in God’s life now. So that no matter how bad things may seem, no matter how long we walk in darkness, we are never alone—God is with us in Christ Jesus.
Our stance toward life in this world is not a turning inward but rather we stand erect and raise our heads because we know our redemption is at hand. Instead of falling into the deep, dark hole of self-absorption, we look outward and upward, noticing how God is at work in the world even today.
If we were not self-absorbed in our own little world this past week, then we noticed something remarkable happen out there in the world of our universe. The NASA spacecraft InSight completed a successful landing on the planet of Mars. To send a spacecraft through space over the course of almost 100 million miles without it being destroyed and then to be able to land it in one piece on another planet is absolutely amazing. The mission of this spacecraft is to explore the interior of Mars by drilling down beneath the surface of Mars to conduct a variety of tests.
Because of the enormous distance between Earth and Mars, it takes about 8 minutes from any communication from the spacecraft to reach Earth. So, at command central everyone knew that InSight had already passed through the atmosphere surrounding Mars and had landed on Mars, but they did not know whether the landing was a success or a disaster for 8 long minutes. All the years of hard work, of engineering and problem-solving and building of the spacecraft came down to a “waiting in hope,” in expectation that the impossible would become a reality.
That is what Advent “waiting” looks like. Knowing that we have done all we can do to prepare for the coming of the Son, we wait in joy-filled expectation for him to come to set us free, to renew our hope, to increase our love, to deepen our faith.
As we enter into this holy time of waiting, what we begin to realize is that all of our life is holy waiting, is driven by hope of something more that is just beyond our grasp, a world beyond our world. When we drill down below the surface of our lives we discover a deep longing for God. That’s the gift of these days, to explore the often unexplored terrain of our own souls and get in touch with this deepest longing of the human heart, which is for union with God.
What we end up discovering may surprise us, for God longs for us even more than we long for God.