December 7, 2012


Advent’s three stages of longing

Bishop Robert F. Morneau, a pastor, poet and ardent Green Bay Packers’ fan, writes in the December issue of Give Us This Day: Daily Prayer for Today’s Catholic that “Advent celebrates God’s multiple comings into our lives.”

The Green Bay auxiliary bishop then identifies Advent’s three stages:

  • Stage 1—Jesus’ historic birth in Bethlehem,
  • Stage 2—his daily coming in the sacramental life of the Church,
  • Stage 3—the Lord’s final coming in glory and majesty at the end of time.

The season of Advent celebrates all three “comings” by giving voice in prayer and in song to the spiritual desire or longing that precedes each stage of the Lord’s advent or coming.

The first stage of Advent is filled with images from the Old Testament that describe with great poignancy Israel’s desire for the coming of the Messiah, the one who would save his people.

Jesus’ coming is both a fulfillment of this profound desire for salvation and a disappointment. We were hoping for salvation “here and now,” a political and economic solution to the world’s troubles.

Instead, the Lord brought healing and the forgiveness of sins—a spiritual solution the size of a mustard seed that was destined to grow exponentially until it embraces the whole world and all of human history.

The second stage of Advent addresses the hopes and fears of our everyday lives. We are an anxious people worrying about many things. The economy is weak and uncertain, which threatens our future as individuals, families and communities. War continues and terrorist threats—and acts—surround us. The sanctity of marriage is increasingly undermined, and family life is too often broken.

Real hope seems to be in short supply so we substitute the various “isms” described in the American bishops’ pastoral letter on stewardship—materialism, consumerism, hedonism, etc.

The Lord of life comes into this broken world every day through the sacramental life of his Church. He invites us to receive him, to be comforted and forgiven, and to renew our baptismal promises to reject sin and choose to follow him—without counting the cost.

The third stage of Advent comes at the end of time at an hour that no one knows or can accurately predict. This third stage of Advent begins for each of us the day we die, and it culminates on the Last Day when all humanity and all history—past, present and future—are united in a single moment of justice and mercy.

As Bishop Morneau writes, “Too easily our lives are kidnapped by the tyranny of the immediate. So engrossed are we with our daily duties and tasks that we forget we are on a journey that leads to eternal life.”

We too often forget that Jesus will come again, when all is said and done, and take us to himself.

Each stage of Advent has its own longing, its own set of desires. What they all have in common is the anticipation that someone—a Savior—will reach out to us, and save us from the sin and guilt of the past, from the problems and confusion of daily life, and from our deep-seated fears about the future.

In each stage, it is Jesus Christ who comes and who reaches out to us—calling each one of us by name.

The Jesus of history who spoke to the people of his day using parables and wise sayings speaks to us today in Scripture, in the sacraments, and in the faithful witness of his disciples and saints. The Jesus who is coming again at the end of our days is the same Christ who was born in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago, and is present now in the holy Eucharist.

We wait in joyful hope for his coming again. We long for him—the Blessed Hope—and we yearn for the salvation he brings because we need it desperately, not just once and for all but continually, every day and for all eternity.

Advent is a time of longing, but it is also a time of rejoicing. We are people who have been given the gift of hope.

As stewards, we are called to nurture and protect this wonderful gift. We are responsible for growing it and sharing it generously with others. Hope grows when it is reinforced by the sights and sounds and smells of this wonderful season. It is nurtured by our Advent prayers and by the songs that express so well our confident expectation that he will come again!

This Advent, let’s be good stewards of our longing. Let’s allow it to become a vibrant hope. And let’s share this hope unsparingly as “new evangelizers” who announce that God is with us—now and forever!

—Daniel Conway

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