Advent 01, Year C

No one is disgraced who waits for you (Ps. 25:3)

We Christians have been waiting a long time for the coming of our Savior Jesus Christ. Perhaps for finding little or nothing in sight and waiting too much, our enthusiasm is beginning to dry up or run out. My impression at least is that, in general, we Christians today do not show as much sense of enthusiasm and urgency as did the early Christians, as evidenced by certain New Testament passages. Of course, they are excited and enthused those Christians who proclaim the so-called “Rapture” and those who are so very sure that the second coming of Christ will happen in their lifetime and, knowing more than the angels of heaven and the Son of Man himself, pinpoints the exact date that will usher in said glorious coming. [1] I am afraid, though, that the more indicated dates pass without the prediction being fulfilled, the greater the decrease in the enthusiasm of believers, and the more explanations we have to give to anyone who asks us for a reason for our hope and to those who ask: “Where is the promise of his coming? From the time when our ancestors fell asleep, everything has remained as it was from the beginning of creation” (1 Pt. 3:15; 2 Pt. 3:4).

My humble explanation for the apparent delay which I hope will give me encouragement and enthusiasm comes from 2 Pt. 3:8-9. This passage advices that things be seen from God’s viewpoint. “With the Lord one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like one day.” From God’s perspective, then, what we human beings consider delay is no delay at all. What is humanly taken as delay is divinely taken as synonymous with patience. And the Lord is patient because “he does not wish that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” So then, repentance, change in thinking and viewpoint (metanoia), makes for the fulfillment of the promise of the glorious return of our Savior Jesus Christ.

I admit, of course, that I have not really repented, I have not changed in my thinking and perspective. I become aware, for instance, that I do not really take seriously what I profess when I pray, “Your kingdom come,” or when I recite with others that we wait in joyful hope for the coming of Savior Jesus Christ (expectantes beatam spem et adventum Salvatoris nostri Jesu Christi). For not rare are the moments when I express that it please God that, for the sake of my two sons, the parousia does not come yet. They have hardly graduated from college all the money spent and efforts expended toward their university education would all go down the drain if they would now not be able to going on living here on earth. I become aware that, yes, I prefer this passing earth to the new heaven and new earth, the holy city, the new Jerusalem, where God will wipe every tear from our eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain (Rev. 21:1-4). It behooves me to listen, then, to St. Vincent de Paul’s reminder that it is not a misfortune to pass over to the next life, anymore than it is a misfortune for an exiled wife to be reunited with her husband, for a traveler to return to his country, for those who sail to come into port.

But lack of concern for this passing world also shows, it seems to me, lack of repentance. If I really long for and agree with the values of the reign of God, would I not want to see them realized in some, though limited, way in this world? I have my doubts, then, about someone who is unconcerned about this earth on the ground that he wants to be more concerned about God’s reign, doubts not unlike St. Vincent’s when he warns: “He who belittles exterior mortifications, saying that interior ones are far more perfect, makes it obvious enough that he does not mortify himself at all, neither interiorly nor exteriorly.” Says Gaudium et Spes 39:

Therefore, while we are warned that it profits a man nothing
if he gain the whole world and lose himself, the expectation
of a new earth must not weaken but rather stimulate our concern
for cultivating this one. For here grows the body of a new
human family, a body which even now is able to give some kind
of foreshadowing of the new age.
Hence, while earthly progress must be carefully distinguished
from the growth of Christ’s kingdom, to the extent that the
former can contribute to the better ordering of human society,
it is of vital concern to the Kingdom of God.

In no. 34 of the same document we read also, “[I]t is clear that men are not deterred by the Christian message from building up the world, or impelled to neglect the welfare of their fellows, but that they are rather more stringently bound to do these very things.”

Indeed, the traditional social teaching of the Church supposes that faith pertains to public life (cf. Dennis Hamm, S.J., “Faith’s Call to Justice” in the July 31, 2006 issue of America). Although it is true that the kingdom of God is “not of this world” (ek tou kosmou autou)—that is, it does not come from the world, or is not “from here” (enteuthen), which word also occurs in Lk. 4:9, Lk. 13:31 and Jn. 2:16 and makes clear that the more precise translation is not the one that reads, “My kingdom does not belong to the world”—still and all, it pertains to this world, so that the world may be fashioned anew according to God’s design and reach its fulfillment (GS 2).

Repentant, therefore, and converted, we will hardly notice the time of waiting, and we will not be disgraced, as we become aware too that the time of waiting situates us in the “now” and “not yet”, making us experience being and lack of being, possessing and waiting to posses. [2] This is the same situation pointed out by the Eucharist, which “is truly a glimpse of heaven appearing on earth” (Ecclesia de Eucharistia 19; cf. David N. Power, O.M.I, “Eucharistic Justice” in the December 2006 issue of Theological Studies).