By Deacon Christopher May
“Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.” -- John 14:23b
Advent is a special season; it is a time to practice waiting: hopeful, attentive, sober longing for the Lord. Although we often think of Advent as a time to prepare for Christmas, and many of us spend much of the Advent season in a frenzy of holiday preparations, it is only the last few days of Advent, from December 17th onward, that focus on the Nativity, the birth of Jesus.
On Christmas, we celebrate the Nativity of Jesus, when the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, who assumes all our human nature, was born as a human infant.
At the beginning of Advent we hear gospel readings about the Second Coming of Christ at the end of history. This reminds us to be attentive to our spiritual life, to avoid complacency and procrastination, to make the decision now to dedicate all of our being to the Lord.
But Saint Bernard writes of a third coming of Christ. It is in-between the first coming, the Nativity, and the Second Coming at the end of history. This third coming of Christ is right now, in our every-day life, in-between the other two. Saint Bernard wrote:
“We know that the coming of the Lord is threefold: the third coming is between the other two and it is not visible in the way they are. At his first coming the Lord was seen on earth and lived among men, who saw him and hated him. At his last coming All flesh shall see the salvation of our God, and They shall look on him whom they have pierced. In the middle, the hidden coming, only the chosen see him, and they see him within themselves; and so their souls are saved … At the first, Christ was our redemption; at the last, he will become manifest as our life; but in this middle way he is our rest and our consolation.”
How do we prepare for this third coming, this coming of Christ into our everyday lives here and now? We know that Christ meets us in the Sacraments of His Church. But how can we best allow the graces of the Sacraments to take root and grow in our souls? One very fruitful spiritual practice is learning how to wait. Waiting is essentially a passive activity, a surrendering of our will to the Lord’s will. When I wait upon the Lord I give up my vain attempts to control everything, to have everything my way, to be my own little false god. It’s an exercise in the radical acceptance of God’s will, an effort to open myself to God’s grace, and so to grow out of my selfishness.
We wait attentively and with open hearts, prepared to meet Christ in the most unlikely places. John the Baptizer expected a certain kind of Messiah, and when John realized that Jesus was not fulfilling John’s messianic expectations he send word asking “are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” Like John, we too sometimes see only what we expect to see.
God is in all things and Christ is in all people. The waiting of Advent helps us to realize that. The docile attentive hopeful waiting of Advent is key to our spiritual growth, of our learning how to love as Christ loves.