Yesterday the Church entered into the liturgical season of Advent. The first Sunday of Advent is also the first Sunday of the “Holiday Season” in our culture. It is the first Sunday of listening to Christmas music, of gift-wrapping, and cookie making.
In order to stay in touch with the spiritual gift of Advent, we've decided to reflect upon one of the first series of General Audiences that Saint John Paul II delivered. During his first season of Advent as Pope, our beloved Holy Father taught the faithful how this time of waiting should be understood.
Advent, quite simply, means “coming,” John Paul II said. It is Jesus who comes, and He comes for us, for all men. In essence, the whole of Christianity is “Advent.” The late Holy Father said:
Christianity lives the mystery of God's real coming to man, and throbs and pulsates constantly with this reality. It is simply the very life of Christianity. It is a question of a reality that is at once deep and simple, that is near the understanding and sensitiveness of every man and especially of those who, on the occasion of Christmas night, are able to become children.
Like excited children who cannot sleep the night before Christmas, man waits for the coming of the Lord, whether he knows it or not. God made man for Him and in His image, St. John Paul II reminded his listeners, and so each person has a “dimension of expectation” in him, through which he can “welcome” God.
The Scriptures are filled with this expectation, this anticipation of a Savior who will help man to welcome God back into their hearts. Throughout Advent we hear the words of Isaiah and others, yearning for their desires to be fulfilled.
The God who loves man as the pinnacle of His creation, who loves all that is good, and who loves through giving also desires to fulfill what is wanting in man. He desires to fill man with grace, John Paul said, or “God's supernatural gift as the result of which we become children of God and heirs to heaven.”
What does this have to do with Advent? Everything, the Holy Father said:
Advent took shape for the first time on the horizon of man's history, when God revealed himself as the one who delights in the good, who loves and who gives. In this gift to man God did not just “give him” the visible world—this is clear from the beginning—but giving man the visible world, God wants to give him Himself too, just as man is capable of giving himself, just as he “gives himself” to the other man: from person to person; that is, to give Himself to him, admitting him to participation in his mysteries, and even to participation in his life.
Just as a husband gives himself to his wife, God wants to give Himself to man. The first man and woman turned away from Him, but, as St. John Paul II reminded his listeners:
Man is called to familiarity with God, to intimacy and friendship with him. God wants to be close to him. He wants to make him a participant in his plans. He wants to make him a participant in his life. He wants to make him happy with his own happiness (with his own Being).
Because of all this the Coming of God is necessary, as is the expectation of man: the availability of man.
We know that the first man, who enjoyed original innocence and the particular closeness of his Creator, did not show this availability. This first covenant of God with man was interrupted, but the will to save man did not cease on the part of God.
Advent lasts always, because God always desires us. This liturgical season reminds us of this desire, this love that He has for us, this grace that He gives us. According to the Holy Father, Advent means: “God who comes, because he wills ‘all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth’ (1 Tim 2:4).” God created us out of love and established the order of grace with us, and so He comes. St. John Paul II said:
He comes, however, “because of sin.”
He comes “in spite of sin.”
He comes to take away sin.
The late Holy Father reminded us that God came to give man the gift of love, which is the greatest gift of all. Let us make ourselves available for receiving this gift, for this God who is always coming for us.
Oh Come, Oh Come, Emmanuel!