It may seem like this time of year is moving along at lightning speed, but we are still only at the very beginning of the Advent season; Advent itself can seem like an odd mixture of many different things.
We wear purple and light purple candles, but it’s not Lent. And the readings are focused either on the first coming of Christ as a child, or they are apocalyptic—focused on the second coming, the last days and the end of the world.
So which coming of Jesus do we celebrate in Advent, the first one or the second? The Catechism says that we celebrate both. We share in the joyful preparation of that first coming of Christ as a child, so that we will grow in our desire to see Him when He comes again (CCC, # 524).
This is significant, because it’s easy to forget—in the secular world we live in—that Jesus really did promise to come back again at the end of time. How often do we really think about that?
In the second reading this morning, the Apostle Peter is warning the Church about those who will arrive in the last days, casting doubt upon the promise of the Lord’s return. They will begin to question—after all these years—whether Jesus has any intention of coming back at all. In response to them, St. Peter says:
Do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like one day. The Lord does not delay his promise, as some regard “delay,” but he is patient with you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.
—2 Peter 3:8-9
St. Peter offers a very different perspective on a very familiar Advent theme: not only are we waiting for God, but He is waiting patiently for us, and calling us to repentance.
Advent is the time when our waiting meets God’s waiting, and we are given the chance—as we heard in the opening prayer of this Mass—“to remove the things that hinder us from receiving Christ with Joy.” This is a season to make a brand new start with Christ. I hope you have had the chance to do that this Advent. If you haven’t, the Good News is that it still is not too late. As St. Peter reminds us, God is patiently waiting, and has been for quite some time.
There is a very beautiful story that we always hear around this time, that classic tale from Charles Dickens called A Christmas Carol. You’ve probably watched it a dozen times on TV, and maybe even seen it in the theatre.
Ebenezer Scrooge, that crusty and obstinate old man, suddenly receives a visit in the night that will change his life forever. The Spirits of Christmas past, present and future come to reveal more about his life than he was ever willing to see.
You may remember the climax of that story, when the ominous Spirit of Christmas Future brings Ebenezer into the graveyard and points to that one, solitary stone, neglected among all the others. Scrooge becomes filled with dread and he says:
Answer me one question. Are these the shadows of things that Will be, or are they shadows of things that May be, only?
He receives no answer from the ghost, and so he moves toward that gravestone and reads the name that he already knows is on it: EBENEZER SCROOGE. And the only thing he wants to know, the only thing that matters, is whether or not it is too late.
“Spirit, hear me!” He cries. “I am not the man I was. I will not be the man I must have been but for this intercourse. Why show me this if I am past all hope? . . . Assure me that I yet may change these shadows you have shown me, by an altered life! . . . Oh, tell me I may sponge away the writing on this stone!”
And of course we know how the story ends. He wakes up in the morning, only to discover that he has been given another chance; it was not too late. His whole perspective, his entire life, has been changed and transformed in a single night.
Why do we love that story? Why does it never seem to grow old? I would suggest that A Christmas Carol is so dear to us because—at it’s very foundations—it is a story that rings true.
Again, as St. Peter tells us, "with the Lord one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like one day." God can make up for a lifetime of mistakes and missed opportunities in a single day, in a single moment; but we have to be willing to open the door for Him. We have to be willing to repent.
In the Gospel this morning, we hear John the Baptist—as we do every year around this time—crying out in the dessert: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths” (Mark 1:3).
What are some of the basic and practical ways God is calling us to do that this Advent? This morning I would suggest three. The first one we have heard already from St. Peter and Ebenezer Scrooge: Repent.
We don’t need a visit from the Spirit of Christmas Future, or some ghost from the past, to tell us when we have failed to love God and those around us. We know. In our consciences we know. God moves us, by His grace, to acknowledge those times and to turn away from sin in our lives and to turn back to Him. Repentance.
The second practical way that we can prepare for the coming of Christ is reconciliation. Having repented of our sins, we come to receive the forgiveness of Christ in the very Sacrament He instituted for the forgiveness of sins.
I was at Bishop Hendricken High School this past Thursday, with about 8 other priests from around the diocese, and we heard confessions for over 2 hours from students who were not obligated to be there.
They came during their lunch hour to receive the grace Christ offers in Sacramental confession and to begin a new walk with Christ this Advent. Might we learn from them how to prepare more completely for the coming of Christ in our lives.
So, repentance, reconciliation, and finally a recommitment to follow Christ more closely this Advent.
We simply make an effort to spend a few moments in prayer each day; perhaps in the morning we make an offering of our day. In some way we acknowledge that we are indeed waiting for the one who is so patient and so steadfast in waiting for us and helping us to be ready for the coming of Christ.