Blessed Hope, Nathan Greene (2011)
To truly know something, you have to understand its purpose. For instance, you can memorize the names of all the parts of the human body, but until you understand the purpose each serves and how they interrelate with each other, then you don’t really know anatomy. Or if you want to understand how a car works, it’s not enough to just name the parts under the hood – you have to understand how they work together to make the engine run.
The same is true in our spiritual lives. Today we enter into a new year in the Church, beginning again the season of Advent. But why do we have Advent? What is its purpose? We know that Christmas is coming, both as it is celebrated in the Church and in the world – but is Advent just the preparation for Christmas, and nothing more?
In the Gospel today, Jesus doesn’t reference Christmas at all. Instead he refers to things that sound terrifying – signs in the sun, moon and stars, nations in dismay, the roaring of the sea and the waves, people dying of fright. All of these are preparations for the Son of Man appearing in the clouds, with power and great glory. Jesus is explicitly telling the disciples that he will come back, that he will return to the earth – and when he does so, no one will miss it.
It seems strange that in a season of new beginnings, like Advent, our readings focus first on things coming to an end. But of course, for new things to arrive, the old must be swept away. The season of Advent is a period of preparation – of turning ourselves to the Lord and awaiting his return. Yes, it’s the season before Christmas, but our preparation should be much more than just preparing to celebrate Christmas again – it should be a period of preparing ourselves for Jesus’s final return. Jesus explicitly refers to his Second Coming so that his disciples can be different than everyone else – rather than cower in fear like the rest of the world, they are to stand up and be ready and welcome him with joy.
If you and I are honest with ourselves, we’d probably admit that – at the moment – we’re not ready for Jesus’s return. We each have some area in our lives that needs some healing, some further conversion. That word – “conversion” – simply means to make turn, in this case, making a turn away from whatever is harmful for us spiritually and turning toward the Lord. In just a little over a week, on December 8, we’ll begin the special Jubilee Year of Mercy, called for by Pope Francis, when we’ll focus for a whole year on the merciful love of God that never abandons us or gives up on us but always welcomes us again with joyful love.
My friends, to truly know something, we have to understand it purpose. And the purpose of living as disciples of Jesus is that we receive – again and again – his mercy and grace so that we are ready for his return when he comes again. So use this Advent not just as a time to prepare for Christmas, but as a chance to ready yourself for Jesus’s final return – to deepen your relationship with him, to turn away from what is holding you back from doing so, and to turn toward the Lord who welcomes you with joy and peace.