Advent's Spiritual Pilgrimage
Over the past centuries the liturgy of the church has developed a spirituality particularly for Christians during Advent. Both the Sunday liturgies and the daily Scripture readings have been designed to direct our journey into the Advent experience of the mystery of Christ. Our parents in the faith have chosen Scriptures that accent three Advents: the Advent of Christ coming into our own lives, the Advent of Christ's physical birth in Bethlehem, and the Advent of his second coming at the end of history. While the liturgies and daily readings of Advent begin with the second coming and move as in a funnel toward the first coming, we are called to a vital personal encounter with Christ through all the readings. As we prepare to be enriched by the Advent liturgies and our personal daily readings, it will be helpful for us to think about how we should journey through the season.
Meditating on the Second Coming
The spirituality of Advent calls us to start our journey in expectation of the second coming of Christ. The end time is the period in history when the work of Christ will be consummated, when the powers of evil will be put away forever, when the earth will be restored to the golden age described by Isaiah and St. John (see Isa. 65; Rev. 20-22). How is this hope for a future restoration of the world to guide our meditation?
First, the hope of a world restored under God proclaims that evil is not the final word. If we were to read only the newspaper accounts of murder, espionage, violence, wars, and the like, we would have only a negative view of the world. If we were to visit the hospitals with the terminally ill, the psychiatric wards with the mentally deranged, or the prisons filled with lawbreakers, we would see the world only from this view. If we were to spend all our time among the poor, among those who are starving to death, among those who are oppressed under political or economic systems that dehumanize and depersonalize people, we would have a pessimistic view of the world.
What the second coming says to us is that the evil of this world is doomed. It will be judged and burned by fire because God in Christ has already dealt a decisive blow to the powers of evil. God has dethroned these powers and taken away their ability to have ultimate control over history and over our lives (Col. 2:15).
Next, the second coming says that the ultimate word in history is the triumph of God, the reign of God's kingdom, the eternal and lasting rule of the good. Here is where our Advent meditation rests. By faith we are promised that evil will be judged and done away with and all will be made whole. This is the vision we want to carry with us as we view the news and visit the hospitals, psychiatric wards, and prisons of our world. Christian hope is an optimism about life that is grounded in Christ and celebrated again and again in the liturgy of the church.
Not only do the readings of Advent build this hope up within us, but the eucharistic prayer of the church reminds us: "Father, you loved the world so much that in the fullness of time you sent your only son to be our Savior. Incarnate by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, he lived as one of us, yet without sin. To the poor he proclaimed the good news of salvation; to prisoners, freedom; to the sorrowful, joy. To fulfill your purpose he gave himself up to death; and rising from the grave, destroyed death, and made the whole creation new." Here in this prayer is the hope by which we live, a hope to shape our attitude about life, a hope that determines our relationships to the events of the world, a hope that gets us through the bitter times of sickness, disappointments, shattered dreams, and the fear of death.