One Who is Coming
Third Sunday of Advent (B)
Advent is a season of waiting, and as we enter the second half of Advent there is a sense that the One we have been waiting for is growing nearer. The third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete (Rejoice) Sunday, takes its name from the first word of the Entrance Antiphon of the Mass: Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Indeed, the Lord is near (Phil 4:4-5). But what does it mean to say that the Lord is near?
In a mundane sense it means that Christmas is closer on the calendar. Advent is the liturgical season that helps us to prepare to celebrate the Nativity of the Lord, and the celebration we’ve been waiting for is drawing near. But that is a remembrance of an event that happened over 2000 years ago. The Lord has already come. Jesus is with us. Admittedly, He is not walking around with us today in His humanity, like He did with the disciples two millennia ago. But Christ is with us in the sacraments and in the Church. So what are we still waiting for?
Advent is a season of waiting, but it is also a season of hope. Those two things are related. Hope is one of the three theological virtues, the other two being faith and love. Each of these virtues have corresponding acts which they elicit within us. For faith, that action is knowing. We receive the divine gift of faith so that we may know the truths revealed to the Church by God. For love, that action is giving. Motivated by love of God and love of neighbor we give freely of ourselves for the good of those we love. For hope, that action is waiting, but more specifically watching.
There are different kinds of waiting. There is a passive waiting, where we just sort of sit around, bored, with nothing to do. That’s not hopeful waiting. Then there is the anxious, nervous waiting where we grow impatient and resentful toward the thing we are waiting on. (“When will that bus ever get here!? It’s ten minutes late already!”) Hope doesn’t inspire that sort of waiting, either.
The kind of waiting inspired by hope is watchfulness. One who is watchful waits with patience and certainty. All of the liturgical readings during Advent are meant to encourage us in both of these regards. The Lord will come and He will not delay (though it may seem to us like delay).
To get a sense of this attitude of hopeful watching, imagine a new bride whose husband has gone on a journey. Also imagine a world without cell phones, email, or instant messaging, so they can’t communicate. She doesn’t know the day or time he will return home, but she is looking forward with great anticipation for that day. Every time the door bell ring she gets excited. Every time she hears a car pull into the drive, she rushes to the window to see if it’s him. His return is on her mind all the time. She may be going about her daily tasks, but she isn’t fully engaged in them because always in her mind is the thought that this might be the day he comes home.
Those of us who wait for the coming of Christ are like that watchful bride, because the Church is that bride.
The Final Consummation
Jesus Himself uses the image of the bride waiting on the bridegroom when He describes the coming Kingdom of Heaven. When we call the Church the Bride of Christ, we are not merely using a metaphor. We are speaking of a mystical, divine reality. Those of us who have been baptized into the Body of Christ are in a very real sense married to Christ inasmuch as the two have become one flesh — humanity and divinity.
But again, hasn’t this already happened? John the Baptist said, “There is one coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie” (Jn 1:27). The One the Baptist foretold came. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. He was baptized by John. He proclaimed the kingdom of God. He suffered, died and was buried. He rose again and ascended into heaven. This all happened. Are not we who are baptized into His death and resurrection already made members of His Body? Aren’t we already “married” to Him?
Yes. We are. And we consummate that marriage each time we receive His precious Body into ours in the Eucharist. But there is still a final consummation yet to come. Jesus speaks so often of heaven as like a wedding banquet. The Eucharist is a foretaste of that banquet. It is a taste of heaven given to us in this world. But we must wait for heaven to experience that blessed union to the fullest.
This is why we keep watch. Jesus has already come in time. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. He did suffer and die. He did rise from the dead and ascend into heaven. And He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and His kingdom will have no end. Our Lord came in the fullness of time and He will come again at the end of time, at the consummation of all things.
A Watchful Attitude
So what do we do in the meantime? How should this watchful attitude manifest itself in our lives? St. Paul tells us in the second reading (1 Thess 5:16-24). We should rejoice always. We should pray always. We should give thanks always. Now if we have to do those three things all the time, you might think that doesn’t leave a lot of room for doing homework, buying groceries or folding the laundry — let alone binge watching the second season of Stranger Things on Netflix.
But these are not tasks we should do, but attitudes we should have. They shouldn’t take up our time as much as they should characterize the way we spend our time, whatever it is we are doing. We should have an attitude of joy and thanksgiving — in all things, regardless of circumstances — with our hearts and minds oriented toward God, which is what prayer is. In other words, we cannot let ourselves become too distracted by the world, caught up in mundane affairs. Like the new bride waiting for her husband to come home, we still do the day-to-day things we need to do, but our eyes should be constantly watching the door, thinking of our Lord, longing for His return.
Finally, Paul also tells us to test everything and retain what is good. What this means is that we who wait for the One who is to come live our lives in the light of Christ. We see everything by that light. Everything we see; everything we hear; every idea we encounter; every desire we feel, we ask ourselves, is this worthy of God? We think of everything we do in light of the bridegroom we so long to see. Is this helping me to prepare for His coming? Is this something I want Him to return and find me doing? Is this worthy of the love I long to show Him?
Another way of asking the same thing is to ask, Is this true? Is this good? Is this beautiful? If yes, then we retain it in our lives. If no, then we reject is as something that can only serve to distract us from our watchfulness. By thus “refraining from evil,” St. Paul tells us we will be “preserved blameless for the coming of Jesus Christ.”
Let us take John the Baptist as our model and inspiration this Advent. Let us, like Him, be ever watchful for the coming of the Lord. Let us be willing, like John, to free ourselves from whatever might serve to distract us from our watchfulness. And may we, like John, be granted the grace to recognize the Bridegroom when He comes to us this day, so that we may be judged worthy of Him on that final day.