Already, But Not Yet

4th Sunday of Advent (Year B)

“May it be done to me according to your word.”

Luke 1:38

Because this year Christmas falls on a Monday, the 4th Sunday of Advent is also Christmas Eve. Since Advent is as short as it can possibly be, we don’t really get a “Fourth Week of Advent” this year. We don’t even get a whole 4th Sunday, as our Christmas celebrations begin with Vigil Masses on Sunday evening. This can make it feel like Christmas is already here, but it’s not yet. 

We are in a state of what I like to call “already, but not yet.” You see this often in seniors as graduation approaches. They have turned in their paperwork. They have purchased their cap and gown. Just a couple more assignments to complete and they are done, but last few assignments can be so hard to do. Mentally they have already graduated. They are ready to move on to the next stage in  life, though it’s not here just yet.

You’ll find the same feeling in engaged couples who are ready for marriage. They have already committed themselves to one another, and long to begin their life together as husband and wife, but marriage itself is something still on the horizon. “Already, but not yet.” It is a joyful anticipation, a feeling of excitement. 

“Already, but not yet,” means the good we long for has been partially fulfilled, and so there is a joy there, but it has not yet been fully realized, so we know there is even more joy to come. 

Perhaps the best example of this is pregnancy. When a woman becomes pregnant with a child, that child is already here in the world. She is a mother not from the moment she gives birth, but from the moment she conceives. But pregnancy is still very much a time of waiting. Advent, to me, has always been something of a pregnant season.

I’ve been asked before, since life begins at conception, why we don’t celebrate the Annunciation as a bigger feast than Christmas. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us at Jesus’ conception, not at his birth.

We celebrate Christmas with more fanfare than the Annunciation for the same reason we celebrate our birthdays and not the days of our conception. It’s because our conception is something hidden. Our birth into the world outside of the womb completes that “hidden time” and makes us manifest to the world. For nine months the Son of God was truly there in the womb of Mary, but He wasn’t made manifest until his birth. 

The whole of our time on this earth can be thought of as a “pregnant” time for it is a time of fulfillment yet also a time of waiting. 

The Nativity of our Lord happened over 2000 years ago and since that time we have been living in the age of Emmanuel, God-with-us. Christ has been born to us, and Christ continues to be born to us every time a new member is added to the Church through baptism. As soon as someone says to God, “Be it done unto me according to thy word” (Lk 1:38), Christ is born in that person. You become pregnant with the Word of God. And yet, Christ has not come to full stature in you. 

There is still growth that needs to happen as you are formed more and more into the likeness of the Son of God. As John says in his first epistle, “Beloved, we are God’s children now (already); what we shall be has not yet been revealed (not yet). We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him for we shall see him as he is” (1 Jn 3:2). God has begun a good work in us, as St. Paul says (already), and he will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus (not yet) (Phil 1:6). 

Already, but not yet.

And so our lives are filled with this joyful tension, an anticipation of an even greater good to come. This experience of “already, but not yet” changes us. It changes the nature of the penance we do. We fast joyfully, because we know we’re invited to the feast. We wait for the bridegroom patiently, because we know that He’s coming for us and indeed is already here, knocking at the door. Even during the most difficult trials of life, we are not overcome because we know that, even though it feels like we are losing this particular battle, Christ has already won the final victory. 

Christ has come in history. Christ is coming even now in grace. Christ will come again in glory. For a Christian, every day should be like Advent, and every day like Christmas.