At this holy time of the year we rejoice once again that God has come among us as a man in the form of the innocent babe of Bethlehem, incarnate by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. In Jesus Christ we see God in the flesh, Emmanuel (“God with us”). I am reminded of the beautiful antiphon of the Eastern Church from the Royal Hours on Christmas Eve:
“God is with us! God is with us! Understand all ye nations, and submit yourselves, for God is with us!” (based on Isaiah 8:9-10).
It is a comfort and joy beyond expression to know the love and mercy of God poured out for us in Jesus Christ who has come to dwell among us. He has come to save us and set us free from the grip of sin and death and to open up for us the way to eternal life. As we have just concluded the Jubilee Year of Mercy, let us recall that as we gaze into the manger of Bethlehem, we gaze into the face of Divine Mercy made flesh.
As we remember with great joy the coming of Christ among us, it would be unfortunate, perhaps even tragic, if we forgot or set aside the spirit which should have been present during the Advent season. This may sound like a strange thing to say, but it is important that we remember that we are always waiting for Jesus Christ to come, not just during Advent.
Some may have noticed that the liturgies of the Advent season focus as much on the “second coming” of Christ as they do on his first coming, which we commemorate at Christmas. The Church, through the ancient liturgies and Scripture readings of Advent, reminds us that Christ will come again in glory at the end of the world. The Church seeks to prepare us for that coming also.
What does the Church teach about that second coming of Christ for which we wait? It would be wonderful for all to read paragraphs 668-682 and 1020-1050 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. At the end of the world, God will bring his eternal plan of salvation to final fulfillment when Christ the Lord will come again in glory. We do not know the day or the hour of his coming again. We must live always prepared and in expectation of that coming. In fact, many of the parables of Jesus remind us of the need to be prepared. “Watch, therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” (Matthew 25:13)
We profess in the Nicene Creed at Mass: “[Christ] will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his Kingdom will have no end.” We should not fear or dread this second coming of Jesus Christ. Rather we should welcome it with great joy and exultation, for this signifies the end of the great period of trial in this world, and ushers in a new heaven and a new earth where there will be no more sorrow, suffering or pain.
During Advent and the Christmas season, I like to think actually about four “comings” of Christ. The first coming is the one already mentioned, the one we commemorate at Christmas. The last coming is when he comes again in glory to establish the final Kingdom of God. But there are two “comings” of Christ in between these two that are also worth considering.
If we die in the flesh before Jesus Christ has returned again in glory, we will meet him face to face at the moment of our death. In a sense, he will have already “come again” for us, each individually. We will then receive his righteous but merciful judgment according to our life in this world. Again, we should have no fear of this moment, provided we are living in friendship with God and free from mortal (deadly) sin. To help ensure that we would be found so, Jesus gave us the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation to mercifully keep us in his friendship.
While we await his second coming, and as we prepare to meet him at the end of our earthly life, we must also welcome him more deeply and intimately into our lives here and now. This is another “coming” of Christ for which we should yearn. He loves us so much, and desires to dwell deeply in our hearts, our families and our homes. He does not want to be a stranger when we meet in glory or at the end of our life.
My prayer for all of you at this beautiful time of the year is that you will throw open wide the doors of your hearts and your homes to receive Jesus with the greatest joy, love and devotion. May we always keep in mind his mercy for us, and the precious gift of eternal life for which he has made us and redeemed us.
Merry Christmas, and God’s richest blessing to you all in the New Year 2017!
The writer is the archbishop of Portland.