Anticipating the Second Coming while celebrating the first

December 12, 2017

During this time of the year, we occasionally hear this secular song played here and there: “You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout, I’m telling you why: (___________) is coming to town!”

Obviously, everyone knows the name to be filled in the blank above. It has been a long tradition for children to believe that Santa Claus is the one who fills up their Christmas stockings — if they are good; he is the one who makes their Christmas wish comes true. So, with great joy, children join in singing this song to remind themselves to behave as they anticipate the Christmas day.

Is Santa Claus actually “coming to town” on Christmas? Let’s find out: “You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout, I’m telling you why: JESUS CHRIST is coming to town!” Indeed, it’s Jesus Christ; He is the one who will visit us, fulfill all of our needs, and most importantly save us from our sins. Like the children, we should always strive to be the best we can be while joyfully anticipating the coming of Jesus Christ.

The word “Advent” (from a Latin word “adventus”) means “coming.” Believe it or not, we have already journeyed half way through the Advent Season; the Mystery of the Incarnation is soon to be magnified in front of our eyes.

Nevertheless, almost all of us are so caught up in the momentum of this joyous Season: shopping, trips, gift wrapping, parties, decorations, music, etc... our attention has been diverted from the Advent’s focus. Let us redirect our mind and heart to the core of this season: waiting and preparing the way for the coming of the Lord.

At the first Christmas, Jesus came to our world and brought us the Father’s greatest gift, Himself, for our salvation. Living in this wounded world, more than ever, everyone is desperately in need of His merciful love and spiritual healing. Absolutely, only in Jesus we find our salvation; truly, only through Jesus we are healed from our wounds, physically, emotionally and spiritually.

As I was meditating on this greatest gift, Jesus, from the Father’s heart to us, I was reminded that “God so loved the world that He sent His only Son into the world...” (cf. John 3:16), “... not to condemn the world, but to save the world...” (John 3:17). What an amazing love! Let us redirect our attention to the Season by reflecting upon these questions: “Have I recognized the presence of this greatest gift, the person of Jesus Christ, in my life? If I have, then how have I embraced Him? Is Jesus Christ the center of my life? Has something else or someone else taken this place?”

Surely, reflecting upon these questions helps us stay in tune with the season. Supposedly, while living on earth, we need to anticipate the second and final coming of Jesus Christ — Parousia — the day when Jesus comes to gather all back to the Father’s home, Heaven, our true home. The whole purpose of celebrating the first coming of Jesus is to prepare us for the second and final coming of Jesus. And the whole idea of anticipating the Parousia is to help us lead our lives according to Christ’s, holy and blameless in God’s sight. Therefore, prepare the way of the Lord!

Let us take advantage of this opportunity to briefly review our Catholic tradition. From Greg Dues’ book, “Catholic Customs and Tradition,” we learn that from the early fourth century, the Feast of the Nativity on Dec. 25 began the Church year at Rome. Since the 900s, Advent took this position and has been considered the beginning of the Church year; it became a distinct liturgical season. Alongside with the themes coming, preparing and waiting during Advent, penitence is another significant one. Obviously, “coming” presupposes preparing and waiting; penitence has its own prominent place.

In the ancient time, people tended to precede a time of feasting with a time of fasting. In the late fifth century, there are hints of a penitential season at this time of the year in Spain and especially in Gaul (today’s France and the Lowlands). People approached this feast with forty days of fasting and penance, very similar to Lent. By the end of the sixth century, Pope Gregory the Great (590-604) made it a short preparation season of four weeks, as we observe today. This penitential theme was more evident until recent time. 

Dues continues: “A tradition of fasting continued until the Code of Canon Law of 1917-1918. Musical instruments were discouraged during Mass, the color purple was used in vestments and decorations, the Glory to God was dropped but the Alleluia kept, and weddings were prohibited. With some modifications, these traditions continue today, but without a serious penitential spirit.”

There are numerous creative ideas to help us live the Advent Season with vitality as we await the second and final coming of Jesus Christ, e.g., Advent Wreath, Jesse Tree, Advent House, Advent Calendar and the manger; however, we need to emphasize the aspect of “coming” of Jesus Christ. Only by carefully preparing and watchfully awaiting for Jesus’ coming, will we know how to conduct our lives according to His invitation: “This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the Gospel” (Mark 1:15).

Certainly, this is our accepted time; this is our salvation. As we already began the new liturgical year of the Church, let us continue the journey of this Advent Season by arduously preparing ourselves and vigilantly awaiting for Jesus Christ’s coming, with a penitential spirit. Happy New Year!

Sister Maria Goretti Thuy Nguyen, OP, is an associate director with the Archdiocesan Office of Evangelization and Catechesis.