GARCIA-LUENSE: Preparing for Christ now and at the end of time

November 28, 2023

This coming Sunday, over a week after Thanksgiving, after the early morning sales, the parades featuring Santa Claus, the Christmas music blaring unapologetically from radios and stores, and the declaration that the “holiday season is upon us,” we will gather as a people of faith to celebrate, not Christmas — not yet — but the first Sunday of Advent.

And we may be tempted to simply nod our heads and say, “Yes. Advent. The Church’s period of preparation for Christmas. The Church is doing the same thing as the rest of the country, getting ready for Christmas — just in its own way.” And while there is some truth to this idea, if that is all we think Advent is about, we will certainly be surprised by the readings and prayers we hear this weekend.

Advent is a word that means “coming” or “arrival”. What or who’s coming do we celebrate? Well, the coming of Christ, naturally. Which coming of Christ? Certainly, we remember the coming of Christ in the great mystery of the incarnation.

We also, however, look forward to the coming of Christ at the end of time. This season is layered with reflections and symbols of both of these comings, for the Church sees them as two sides of a single coin. The one inaugurates the kingdom of God and our redemption, and the other brings them to their final fulfillment. We cannot rightly celebrate one without the other. And so, this season of Advent is about much more than getting ourselves ready for the physical and emotional demands of the holiday season. It is about getting ourselves ready for our final destiny in Christ. It is, in the words of the opening prayer, about being worthy of possessing the heavenly kingdom.

Our destiny, however, is achieved not in a moment but in a journey. As anyone who has even been on a pilgrimage knows, pilgrims travel anticipating their arrival. We, as individuals and as a community, are on a journey — a pilgrimage — toward final fulfillment in Christ. They model on their journey the behavior that will be the hallmark of their entrance. In our Christian pilgrimage, we journey in hope grounded in the promise that our future is to share in that which is already realized in Christ. That hope allows us to live in the in-between of the journey as ones who already live the joy-filled life of Christ, modeling our life on his.

This journey is marked by the awareness of both our own sinfulness and God’s graceful intervention in our lives. This weekend, Isaiah will remind us that we are all sinful people. Paul, on the other hand, will remind us that by the grace of God bestowed on us in Christ, we are not lacking in any spiritual gift. Holding these together is the Gospel, in which Jesus tells His disciples to be watchful and alert. If we are not watchful and awake and alert, we may lose our way and wander from the path that leads to our final destination.

Our journey is an unusual journey, for our destination is not in some other place, far away.

Rather, it is a journey of growth, renewal, transformation and redemption that takes place where we already live. We will have arrived when our cooperation with and participation in the transformative mission of God for this creation — this creation and not another — has finally come to fulfillment.

In this winter of darkness, we anticipate the dawn of His final coming and welcome His light. We use symbols to help express this process, as week by week, the light that shines forth from our Advent wreath grows.

If we keep our eyes fixed firmly on Christ, who is our way and our light, living as pilgrims who anticipate our arrival even while we journey, we will not be a worried and fearful people, nor will we be surprised by the final coming of the Son of Man, but we will rejoice as a people who finally arrived home. 

Brian Garcia-Luense is an associate director of the Office of Evangelization and Catechesis.

(OSV News photo)