Preparing to Meet Christ

Bishop Raica Celebrates the First Sunday of Advent

My sisters and brothers, these four weeks we spend together in Advent before Christmas are a beautiful moment to look at our hopes and dreams just as we peer into and glimpse the expectations of the early Jewish community awaiting a Savior. We now rejoice in the presence of Christ in the world today. We also hear about the sober expectations of the Christian community awaiting the coming of Christ at the end of time.

The Church represents, to some degree, the hopeful expectation of the community of believers around the presence of Christ with us. Imperfect human beings as we are, we can, at times, create a vision that is murky and blurry through our human weakness and sin. There can even be a tendency to reduce ourselves to the “least common denominator” by giving up too early and by not even striving for the greatness that the Lord has given us. Nonetheless, it was the early disciples who wanted to stay with Christ because they found something that no one else or no other thing offered them (i.e., a fulfillment of what they most deeply yearned for and dreamed about – an expectation for happiness and wholeness).

There is an old and time-honored formula for happiness which says that in order to be happy, a person needs three things: Something to do, someone to love, and something to look forward to. All these elements are present in the season of Advent. That’s what the word Advent means: The coming! The arrival! It might seem a little odd to prepare for someone who has already come, has left but still remains with us, and for whom we await. It is not for us to figure out these tricky paradoxical realities that exceed the limitations of our language and logic. We describe it in various ways, but often, as our faith already attests, it is something like the “already, but the not yet!”

Think about it: Every morning we get up expecting something. We want to be in a place, a world, a job, a family where those things that infringe on happiness can be reduced or eliminated. We want no more sickness, no more hate, no more war, no more conflict, no more hunger, and so on. We look for someone to propose a better world, a hope-filled world, one that thrives after the good, the true, and the just -  something that will be completely and totally satisfying. All the efforts of human history seem to fail, except in the discovery of the person of Jesus Christ who convincingly demonstrated to us how to live.

What is this happiness we are searching for? I was reminded by a colleague that, at our Thanksgiving gatherings, no one we know of said a prayer of thanks for the latest new car they bought or the latest technological gadgets that, seemingly, we cannot live without in our modern world. We gave thanks for family, friends, and loved ones. So, are we looking for the latest in efficiency? No, it seems we are looking for a relationship with a person. When a child is born, she or he looks for his mother. Later she or he will look for his father. At school, he or she will look for friends. Then he or she will be looking for the love of their lives. Then, as a couple, they will look forward to sharing that love with their children. There is something within us – within our human DNA – that can only be satisfied by the touch and gaze of a mother, or father, or sibling, or friend, or children, or spouse – each in their own way. We are always looking for this person.

Perhaps, this is the underlying message of Christianity and of Christmas – the great Advent season is the expectation of a person. And Jesus, Himself, claims to be the very person we are looking for.

He comes in the flesh and looks just like us. Yet, He points us toward the Father, the source of all love. Our gaze must look beyond. The birth of Christ and the life of Christ give us the precise coordinates where we should direct our gaze. At the same time, Christ lights up our path to bring our humanity to a greater experience – a true sense of joy, peace, truth, justice, love …  a way like no other.

As Christians, we know that Christ has come. It is a fact that every person who ever lived must come to grips with. With the fact of His presence, the history of the world changed. And changed definitively! Hopefully, our lives have changed, too! For me, it is almost impossible to imagine a world without beauty, without love, without the inspiration of what the coming of Christ has done for artists and musicians and our common cultural expressions such as Christmas and Easter – honoring the dead, helping the disadvantaged, offering opportunities for healing, accompanying, educating, forming minds and hearts after the very pattern and example of Christ. The fact of Christ’s coming nourishes our lives each time we celebrate Mass, receive Eucharist or the sacraments, or reach out and lend a helping hand. When we do so and link hands with Christ, we are beginning again.

Yet, there are those who have been trying to deny the fact of Christ - distort the fact, ignore the fact, change the fact of the presence of Christ or the joy of Christians who have come to know the depths of the truth of this fact. There are those trying to tempt and seduce us away by fleeting and inadequate solutions to the deepest cravings we have in our souls and in our lives. Perhaps, it is for this reason that many of the saints arrived at the startling, yet simple, conclusion that “without You, O Christ, I cannot live.” Everything and every aspect of life revolved around Christ and made ultimate sense through the lens of Christ.

The Gospel passage we have just heard presents an amazing contrast. It does not speak about the beginning, but the end. It exhorts us to be “sober and awake,” taking notice of the signs around us, preparing us for the coming of the Son of Man “on the cloud with great power and glory!” This is far different than a powerless infant found in a manger, born of an insignificant couple. It is something completely and totally other.

So, what is the effect of this season for us? For us Catholics, it is an opportunity to recognize the presence of Christ with us – God with us – Emmanuel right in our midst! While this Advent season is evocative in its own way – as we commemorate the arrival of Christ at the end of time and at Christmas - it is also even more so to see His presence, hidden but visible with us today. For this reason, our lives should be lived as though we were to meet Christ today – and indeed we do! We have met Him – we walk with Him! As we begin this Advent season, He is the one for Whom we yearn and Who sustains us in our journey through life. That is a great Advent that awaits our response to its annual invitation – to prepare ourselves to meet Christ. It is one I look forward to experiencing this year together with you! May God bless you all!