In our week-end and week-day Masses during December, we shall briefly examine, and celebrate, the meanings of Advent emphasized by the prayers and scripture readings. They include talk about “the Second Coming,” or “end of this age,” or “coming of the Kingdom of God,” and towards Christmas, “the coming of Christ” in his birth.
In light of our Catholic faith, Church teachings, prayers at Mass, and the appointed Readings for the Season—and surely informed by years of trying to live within the Body of Christ—it seems to me that there is an essential, underlying meaning to Advent that can all-too-easily be neglected or downplayed. What clouds our attention is not only the commercialism of this “shopping season,” nor our habit of partying. Even some of the biblical readings and prayers at Mass at times may cause more confusion or less thoughtful insight than one would wish. Talk of the “Second Coming,” for example—a phrase never used in the New Testament, incidentally—surely directs attention in a misleading direction, or even into a cul-de-sac of understanding. Also highly confusing to Christians is biblical prophecy about “the coming of the Kingdom of God.” This Hebrew expression is rarely understood, and actually was often a term used loosely or without sufficient clarifying. In other words, some of the symbolic language used during Advent confuses, rather than guides and illuminates, our faith in the living God. Some of these details will be presented in week-day homilies, and perhaps in our week-end Masses as well.
What, most briefly stated, is the underlying meaning of Advent? It is a season for awareness of our ignorance of God, and a faith-inspired awareness that what we call God far surpasses our human understanding. Advent highlights “watching and waiting,” not for what we expect or believe, but for the divine mystery to unfold as God wills, not according to our plans or thoughts or feelings. Advent should be a season of stripping away false expectations and illusions before the truth of the unseen God. All-too-often, Advent is hidden beneath such illusions, or perhaps just plain ignored because of shopping, parties, entertainment, sporting events, and too much booze.