The Comings of Christ

My dear Friends,

In a beautiful Advent homily St. Bernard, a 12th century Cistercian monk, speaks of three comings of Christ. Normally in Advent we speak of two: Christ’s first coming by his birth through Mary, and the second final coming at the end of time. But St. Bernard mentions a third coming that lies in between the personal coming of Jesus into each one of our lives. Our Lord referred to this when He said: “If anyone keeps my word, the Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our abode with him.” So, while Advent is a time of hope-filled waiting, it is also a time to appreciate more deeply what Christ’s intimate and personal presence means for us now.

Here’s where Mary plays a very important role in our life, the great Apostle of Advent, for she more than anyone else, teaches us how to live this time of “in between.” Using our Christian memory, we go back over two thousand years, recalling that in the few weeks leading up to Christmas this young woman, probably no more than 14 years old is walking the streets of Nazareth, and growing quietly within her, in the silence of her simple, ordinary life, is the little Christ child. While all that Mary did each day was forming the body of Christ within her, Christ was growing within her in another way: in the growth of her likeness to him. As Christ was taking on her physical likeness and traits, she, through the total offering of herself to him in faith and love, was taking on more and more His spiritual likeness.

And because of her consent to this transformation, even before his birth, Christ was able to walk the streets of Nazareth through Mary, radiating his presence and life in her attitudes, her virtues, her loving service to Joseph and others. Jesus could use her eyes, which she offered to him, to gaze with compassion on the world He came to save; He could use her voice to speak words of comfort and hope to her neighbors; He could use her hands to reach out and touch the untouchables she encountered in the streets and market place.

As we await the second coming of Christ, our life now is about this intimate, ongoing growth of Christ within us, so that his presence and life may radiate through us and give hope to those who do not yet have this hope. Our growing into the likeness of Christ is God’s work in us, until, as St. Paul says, it is brought to completion. This process of daily growth helps us understand the presence in Advent of John the Baptist and his message of repentance. Growth in Christ will always entail the ongoing confession and removal of sin, the willingness to change, to be converted.

Though the message of repentance is unpopular, feared and rejected by the proud and worldly minded, it is a message full of hope and promise for those who welcome it. Repentance means that, with God, there is always the possibility of becoming more today than I was yesterday, that God will never give up on me, even though I may want to give up on myself. God does not only see what I am now, but sees what I will become by His grace. Because Christ is with us now as our Merciful Savior, our life can know new beginnings and fresh starts.

At every Mass we imitate Mary, surrendering and offering ourselves completely to God, so that as we receive the bread and wine, changed into the body and blood of Christ, we too might be changed more into the likeness of Christ, who is our hope and the only true hope of the world.

I want to end with a beautiful example of the importance of this transformation in Christ from Madeliene Delbrel, a French lay woman of the 20th century, taken from her work, “We the Ordinary People of the Street”:

“Lord, let the thick skin that covers me not be a hindrance to you. Pass through it. My eyes, my hands, my mouth are Yours. This sad lady in front of me: here is my mouth for You to smile at her. This child so pale he’s almost gray: here are my eyes for You to gaze at him. This man so tired, so weary: here is my body so that You may give him my seat, and here is my voice so that You may say softly to him, “please sit down.” This smug young man, so dull, so hard: here is my heart, that You may love him more strongly than he has ever been loved before.”

May God, who has begun such a mighty, wonderful work in us, bring it to completion, making us ready for the day of Christ’s return in Glory.

 

God love you,
Fr. Steven

 

 

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