Discover ways to encounter Christ

Bishop Raica celebrates the Second Sunday of Advent

My sisters and brothers, we know the short season of Advent is a time of waiting and hopeful expectation. Waiting, while full of expectation, can also surface some worrying. In one sense, waiting can be cold and impersonal. The goal of our waiting is eventually to arrive. Through this liturgical season, we are waiting for Christ to come – in Bethlehem and at the end of time. And until He comes, we have a gap, a vacuum; there is no one else around to fill the void. All we have is an Advent wreath with four candles to symbolize our patience during these four weeks of waiting while the light gets brighter with the lighting of successive candles in preparation for the arrival of Christ at Christmas. In my mind, this is one of the most revolutionary events of history – God, through His Son, Jesus, and with the cooperation of Mary, assumed our human flesh. God became, in that sense, one like us. No other religion makes this claim.

There is another reality we find, though. Christ has already come! He is present today and will, in the course of time, come again as we heard last week – in all of His radiant splendor and majestic power. Indeed, Christ’s presence among us will not leave any doubt. His presence will be unmistakably clear.

Yes, we can readily affirm the presence of Christ here – right here in downtown Birmingham! For over 100 years, this church building (now a cathedral) has stood on this spot as a visible witness to this presence of Christ here in the drama of our city. Christ is here – present now – as He was to our ancestors who preceded us. No, it’s not just some nostalgic relic or memory of the past, but it is something that must be grappled with by each and every person who walks through the doors of this cathedral church today. Christ is here, waiting for you and me.

In our Advent readings, there are several figures proposed through Sacred Scripture who offer us the hopes and longings of a people who dreamed about the Messiah who would come. Consider, if you will, these three great Advent figures among the many that are proposed:

1. ISAIAH – He is the great Old Testament prophet from the 7th – 8th century B.C. He provides for us a passionate hope for the imminent coming of the Prince of Peace. He represents Israel’s yearning for the Messiah King. He suggests a clue: “A virgin shall be with child.” He also paints a picture of what it will be like when the full blossoming of the Kingdom of God comes to fruition. From a seemingly barren, lifeless tree trunk, the stump of Jesse, a shoot will sprout. Life will begin again. It will be imperceptible and unexpected, but definite. To a large degree, however, the patient waiting for God will come at an indeterminate time in the future. That is – the Messiah will come in God’s own time, not ours. We cannot hasten it! We cannot delay it. God’s time will always be the right time.

2. JOHN THE BAPTIST – Remember that He is the messenger, the herald, the forerunner – “Prepare the way of the Lord! Make straight His paths.” But he is a bit puzzled. He, too, expects the Messiah to be like, as many during his time, a fiery social and political reformer. That’s what he imagined! He doesn’t quite know what to make of the Jesus he sees and experiences. This Jesus who appears on the scene is one who doesn’t quite fit the cultural and religious expectation of the day. Nevertheless, he urges his followers to “prepare” and then at the right moment, points him out: “Look! There’s the Lamb of God.” Andrew and John go and spend time with Him and conclude: “We have found the Messiah,” the one we have been looking for.

3. MARY – She is the soft-spoken lady in Nazareth. It is of her that we can speak a few words today. I do so because today because within this week, we will remember her twice! Once on Dec. 8, the great feast of the Immaculate Conception! That is, when Mary was conceived in her mother, whom we have come to know as St. Ann. The Immaculate Conception is also the patroness of our nation! The second title of Mary is also celebrated next Sunday, on Dec. 12, when we will recall Our Lady of Guadalupe. Here is the evocative image dear to the heart of the Hispanic community and identified as the patroness of the entire American continent! So, our Lady is here to guide us and give us an indication as to what we can do during this time of waiting for the Lord’s coming. Here are two ways we can address this moment of waiting:

  1. First, the way Mary waited for Christ’s first coming left her with the same wonder as others, “Are you He who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Mt. 11:3) Mary waited like no other in history. He, for whom she waited, was first in her mind and then nestled in her womb. No wonder she burst into song, exclaiming, “My being proclaims the greatness of the Lord, and my spirit finds joy in God my savior … for He who is mighty has done great things for me.…” (Lk 1:46-49)
  2. Second, the way Mary waited for Christ’s second coming. In a word, she was His disciple. Not only the first of Jesus’ disciples, but the very model of what it means to be a disciple. She lived the very meaning of discipleship: to “follow.” She followed one Master. How? A constant theme in the Gospels informs us: “Whoever does the will of God is brother, sister, and mother to me.” (Mk 3:35) “My mother and my brothers, they are the ones who listen to the Word of God and act on it.” (Lk 8:21)

That, at its best, is Mary. She who hears God’s word and does it. Such was Mary at the Gospel’s beginning. At a decisive moment God asked this teenage Jewish girl to be the mother of His Son. Her response was simple, total, and direct: “Let it be done to me as You say.” (Lk 1:38)

Mary shows us how to wait for Christ every day – in poverty and powerlessness. Her greatness was proclaimed through the generations.

During this Advent season, we will discover the ways in which we can encounter Christ, being involved with the various charity initiatives, listening to the inspiring music of the season with a vesper service this Thursday, having an admiration for the beauty of the decorations we find around town. Through it all, we will cast off night and illuminate the darkness of our lives with the light of Christ that grows with every passing Sunday of Advent. There is much to move us as we reflect upon our waiting for Christ to come. The help of Isaiah, John the Baptist, and Mary can inform our journey so that we will know where to look to welcome Christ who appears in unexpected ways!