For two years now, as a seminarian, I’ve been praying with the Church more regularly during Advent. By this, I mean praying the Liturgy of the Hours and going to Mass. Being immersed more in the liturgy, I get a better idea of what Advent is all about. The question of Advent comes down to this: what are we waiting for? We wait for the celebration of Jesus’ birth, yes, but that’s only half the story.
During Advent, we wait first to celebrate the birth of Jesus, joining with centuries of Jewish people waiting for the coming of the Christ. We see this in the first reading, when the Prophet Isaiah writes: “They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.” Who is this man they wait for? Who is this kingly figure, being described as a Saviour? In Isaiah’s context, perhaps King Hezekiah, the next king of Judah. But in a broader context, no man could perfectly fulfill this longing for a Saviour: no man except the God-Man, Jesus Christ. Every promise made in the Old Testament, every hope of salvation, every yearning of every heart finds its fulfillment in Jesus.
So why do we wait for Jesus? Didn’t He already come? Yes, but He’s coming back! We recall the former longing for the Christ, because we long for Him now. This is the second way we wait in Advent: we long for Jesus to come back. In the second reading, St. Paul reminds us that we are to “live temperately, justly, and devoutly in this age, as we await the blessed hope, the appearance of the glory of our great God and savior Jesus Christ.” Do I await the coming of Jesus, preparing to welcome Him? When Jesus came the first time, as the Gospel tells us, “there was no room for them in the inn.” When Jesus comes again, will there be room for Him in the inn of my heart? It is so easy to fill our hearts with every kind of distraction. But maybe, just maybe, we can set aside room for Him. He isn’t afraid of a humble dwelling-place: if He was willing to be born in a cave, He’s more than willing to dwell in our hearts, as messy and cluttered as they can sometimes be!
Today, on Christmas Day, we commemorate the first coming of Jesus Christ, and we look forward to His coming again in glory. Throughout this Christmas season, let’s rejoice and celebrate, looking forward to the day when we can welcome Him in fullness! Then, humble shepherds and magnificent angels will once again cry out: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
Sean Ulrich – St. Joseph Seminary, Edmonton, Alberta.