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Waiting and watching for Christ’s arrival

“As we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.” These words from the liturgy perfectly summarize the spiritual disposition we should cultivate during Advent. Similar words are prayed at each Mass after the Our Father, “…as we await the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.”

The liturgical season of Advent derives its name from the Latin word adventus, which means either “presence,” “arrival,” or “coming,” depending on the context. In ancient times, it was a technical term that referred to the arrival of an official or the visit of the king or emperor to a city or region. In his homily for the beginning of Advent in 2009, Pope Benedict XVI shared this background and explained: “Christians used the word ‘advent’ to express their relationship with Jesus Christ: Jesus is the King who entered this poor ‘province’ called ‘earth’ to pay everyone a visit; he makes all those who believe in him participate in his Coming, all who believe in his presence in the liturgical assembly. The essential meaning of the word adventus was: God is here, he has not withdrawn from the world, he has not deserted us.”

The time of Advent can be summed up in two short phrases: “deep hope” and “watchful waiting.” The birth of Jesus, after centuries of waiting, was God’s answer to the longings of countless hearts for the promised Messiah, and this longing still exists in the hearts of those who do not yet know Jesus.

The impact of Christ’s arrival at Christmas and at the end of time should be something that we are preparing for in our hearts and in our prayer life. Benedict XVI suggests that Advent “invites us to pause in silence to understand a presence. It is an invitation to understand that the individual events of the day are hints that God is giving us, signs of the attention he has for each one of us.” He even proposes keeping an ‘interior journal’ of these signs as a way to immerse ourselves in this reality of his love that we so often gloss over. When we become attuned to the daily signs of God’s love for us, then waiting in joyful hope comes to us naturally.

The recently canonized Saint John Henry Newman describes this waiting in a sermon on Mark 13:33, the passage reads, “Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come.”

Reflecting on this warning from Christ, St. John Henry Newman preached, “He foresaw the state of the world and the Church, as we see it this day, when His prolonged absence has made it practically thought, that He never will come back in visible presence: and in the text, He mercifully whispers into our ears, not to trust in what we see, not to share in that general unbelief, not to be carried away by the world, but to ‘take heed, watch, pray,’ and look out for His coming.”

For St. John Henry Newman, this state of watchfulness is an essential characteristic of Christians and a part of the fabric of our daily lives. He writes, “We are not simply to believe, but to watch; not simply to love, but to watch; not simply to obey, but to watch; to watch for what? for that great event, Christ’s coming.”

His description of a watchful disciple is so well done that it is worth quoting. “He watches for Christ who has a sensitive, eager, apprehensive mind; who is awake, alive, quick-sighted, zealous in seeking and honouring Him; who looks out for Him in all that happens, and who would not be surprised, who would not be over-agitated or overwhelmed, if he found that He was coming at once.”

This naturally poses the question to each of us: ‘Would you be agitated or overwhelmed to learn that Jesus was coming a second and final time today?’ Pope Francis began Advent this year by warning people not to fill the longing in our hearts for God with material things, believing that “life only depends on what you have.” This outlook would produce feelings of agitation if Jesus came today, since those seeking material possessions will be empty-handed when they encounter the reality of Christ’s coming.

Instead, let us seek God’s love by daily watching for his coming and preparing for his arrival. Rejoice! God is with us.

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila
The Most Rev. Samuel J. Aquila is the eighth bishop of Denver and its fifth archbishop. His episcopal motto is, "Do whatever he tells you" (Jn 2:5).
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