|The Coming (Again) of the Incarnate One|
The Annunciationthe announcement of grace and favor on the young maiden Marymarks the first time that the reality of the Incarnation was made known. Mary is "full of grace," explained John Paul II, "because it is precisely in her that the Incarnation of the Word, the hypostatic union of the Son of God with human nature, is accomplished and fulfilled" (RM 9). Because Mary gave herself to God, God gives himself to mankind. The Son of God became the Son of Man so that by grace we might become what he alone is by nature: a true son.
Imagine the awe and wonder that Mary felt as the angel addressed her as "Full of Grace." Advent is a time to contemplate and experience the same awesome, wondrous power in the coming of our Lord. It is a call to awaken, to look up, and to rejoice. In the words of St. Paul, from todays epistle: "Brothers and sisters: You know the time; it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep. For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed; the night is advanced, the day is at hand."
|Towards the Fulfillment of the Kingdom|
Advent is a season of hope and preparation. For what? The return of the Christ-child as Christ the triumphant King. Which is why the Gospel reading on this first Sunday of Advent is taken from the Olivet Discourse. In it Jesus talks about another advent, his coming in glory: "Therefore, stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come. Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour of night when the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and not let his house be broken into. So too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come."
During Advent there is a continual connection made between the first coming of the Son and his second coming. Yet the term "second coming" can be misleading since the Sons return is really a completion and fulfillment of his birth two thousand years ago, not some unrelated and disconnected event. In his Advent reflection in 2001, John Paul II highlighted the continuity between the two comings, writing, "Christ is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. Thanks to him, the history of humanity proceeds as a pilgrimage toward the fulfilment of the Kingdom which he inaugurated with his Incarnation and victory over sin and death." For this reason, he explained, "Advent is synonymous with hope: not the vain waiting for a faceless god, but concrete and certain trust in the return of him who has already visited us . . ."
Catholics are sometimes reluctant to talk about the return of Christ. Perhaps they think the topic is the property of certain Evangelical Protestants whose focus on the "rapture" and Christs return can seem obsessive and imbalanced. Advent provides the right balance by rooting the return of our Lord in the Incarnation. "At his first coming he was wrapped in swaddling clothes in a manger," wrote St. Cyril of Jerusalem in the fourth century, "at his second coming he will be robed in vestments of heavenly light." May hope, preparation, joy, and light fill our hearts during Advent.