December 1, 2017

Christ the Cornerstone

Waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

This weekend, we celebrate the First Sunday of Advent. It’s hard to believe, isn’t it? Another Church year is ending, and so we begin again our observance of the year of grace, the liturgical seasons that define our worship and our practice of the Christian faith.

Advent is a particularly colorful liturgical season. It is full of rich symbolism and references to vivid characters of the Old Testament, including the prophet Isaiah and the herald John the Baptist, who bridges both the Old and the New Testaments. Of course, in the Northern Hemisphere, Advent coincides with autumn—nature’s final burst of color before the barrenness of winter—and it prepares our hearts for the warmth and beauty of Christmas.

The Scripture readings for the First Sunday of Advent this year call attention to the importance of active or attentive waiting. Isaiah speaks of the Jewish people’s longing for the Lord’s return. “Why do you let us wander, O Lord, from your ways, and harden our hearts so that we fear you not? Return for the sake of your servants, the tribes of your heritage” (Is 63:16b-17, 19b).

Our longing for God’s return is a dominant theme in Advent, but it begs the question a bit. Is it God who is absent? Or have we wandered away from God, choosing to follow our own paths? “We have all withered like leaves, and our guilt carries us away like the wind” (Is 64:5), the prophet Isaiah reminds us.

Even the responsorial psalm calls on God to manifest himself: “O shepherd of Israel, hearken from your throne upon the cherubim, shine forth, rouse your power, and come to save us” so that we “will no more withdraw from you; give us new life, and we will call upon your name” (Ps 80:2-3,19).

The truth is that we have turned away from God, and our guilt has carried us away like the wind. Now we need the help of God’s grace to see what is right in front of us—the loving mercy of God who has never left us and who welcomes us home to his loving arms.

Advent is a season of grace, a time of year when we “wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 1:7). This “revelation” is not something esoteric or complicated. It is a person, Jesus Christ himself, who comes to us in many diverse ways and invites us to be united with him.

The Gospel for the First Sunday of Advent urges us to “Be watchful! Be alert!” because we do not know when the Lord will come to us (Mk 13:33).

We can say with the absolute certainty of faith that the Lord will come to us. And we can even say that he is coming now in our daily prayer, our gathering in his name, our reception of the Eucharist, and our service to our brothers and sisters in need. But it’s also true that we have no idea when our Lord will appear among us in particular unexpected ways or at the end of time. All we can do is “Watch!” and wait for his coming.

We begin the Church year with a season of waiting, a time of expectation and longing. Advent prepares us to celebrate Christmas without falling into the trap of superficial or unrealistic expectations. It teaches us that the greatest gift of Christmas is the Lord himself. Advent shows us that a personal encounter with Jesus Christ is what we truly hope for at this time of year (and always). It reminds us that all the joys of Christmas, and of the Lord’s second coming, can truly be ours—if we learn to wait for them prayerfully.

Each time we celebrate Mass, we acknowledge that we are waiting for the Blessed Hope, Jesus, to come again. This waiting is easier said than done. It requires patience, trust and a firm belief that God will hear and answer our prayers. We hope that the Lord will give us everything we desire and need, and that his coming again—this Eucharist, at Christmas and at the end of time—will be a source of everlasting joy.

Advent is the Church’s way of helping us keep our eyes open. It’s also a season filled with reminders that the Lord is coming “whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning” (Mk 13:33-37).

May he not come suddenly and find us asleep at the wheel. May we use this holy season to help us remember the mystery that God-is-with-us at the very same time that God is yet-to-come!

Best wishes for a blessed Advent season! †

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