As I am sure most of you (well…hopefully ALL of you!) are aware, we are currently in the liturgical
season of Advent. We often think of Advent as the season of preparation before Christmas. Which it is.
(Partially.) But when we dig down deeper and examine the season more closely, Advent is really two
seasons. And December 17 is the official “crossover” point where Advent makes a decided shift.
Rather than (simply) calling Advent the season of preparation before Christmas, it is really more accurate to call Advent the season where we prepare for the coming of Christ to the earth. With that as our overarching understanding of this liturgical season, the “tale of two advents” comes into clearer view.
During the beginning portion of Advent, roughly the first 23 weeks, there are only occasional references to the coming celebration of Christmas and how Christ first came to earth as the baby in the manger. During this first part of Advent, the focus instead is on the how Christ will come to the earth once
again, His Second Coming, at the end of time. This is the focus of many of the readings both at daily and
Sunday Mass and is also very evident in the Preface to the Eucharist Prayer that is prayed at every Advent Mass from the beginning of the season until December 16. One portion of this Preface is especially
“…that, when he comes again in glory and majesty
and all is at last made manifest,
we who watch for that day may inherit the great promise
in which now we dare to hope.”
During these first weeks of Advent, therefore, the Church is calling us to remember “the great promise”
in which we hope, and to “watch for that day” when, in glory and majesty, Christ will return to the earth
and all will at last be made manifest.
However, beginning on December 17one week out from Christmas Eve everything changes. The
Church begins shifting our attention to the first coming of Christ, His historical coming, in the manger at
Bethlehem. The weekday readings from December 17 onward, in particular, are filled with the various
Old Testament prophesies of the coming of the Messiah and the Gospel readings begin telling the story
of the Savior’s birth. We also begin using Advent Preface II, which emphasizes this new focus:
“For all the oracles of the prophets foretold him,
the Virgin Mother longed for him with love beyond all telling,
John the Baptist sang of his coming and proclaimed his presence when he came.
It is by his gift that already we rejoice at the mystery of his Nativity,
so that he may find us watchful in prayer and exultant in his praise.”
So as we are now beginning to settle into this season of Advent, I pray we can all take advantage of
these early days in December to truly watch and long for the day, at some unknown point in the future,
when Jesus our Lord will return in all his majesty and glory. And once we hit that last week before
Christmas, which will begin only about 10 days from now (!!!), let us all do our best to long for Him
“with love beyond all telling” and remain watchful in prayer, so that we may rejoice with indescribable
joy when we gather to celebrate His birth on Christmas.
Fr. John Paul