Getting to the heart of what Advent-Christmas is about

By: By Father Claude Peifer, OSB

Second Sunday of Advent, Dec. 9

Baruch 5:1-9; Psalm 126:1-2,2-3,4-5,6; Philippians 1:4-6,8-11; Luke 3:1-6

The season of Advent is about “the Coming” (in Latin adventus) of the Lord. What does that mean? The prophets of the Old Testament had foretold that their God would manifest himself on “the Day of the Lord” both to punish the wicked and to rescue and vindicate the just.

We believe that their prophecy was fulfilled in the coming of Jesus Christ and his inauguration of the reign of God. So our season of Advent looks backward to that event. But it is clear that what we experience in our present life (which includes suffering and disappointment) is not definitive, and Jesus promised to come again to set everything right. So it also concerns a future coming that we ardently desire.

In the meantime, however, he is not absent even now, so there is a another hidden coming in the present that we experience day by day, though we are often unaware of it. All three of these comings — past, future, and present — are the object of this season of Advent, and it should be a reminder to us of the reality of his presence.

Of its very nature, the realization of Jesus’ future coming inspires in us feelings both of fear and of joy. We earnestly desire that his coming may bring the present age to its fulfillment and initiate something better. But our conscience tells us that in the final judgment not everything we have to show for our life will be to our advantage. Of that we are fearful. Yet hope urges us to trust that the Lord’s mercy will wipe out all our negatives and welcome us into his definitive kingdom.

The Third Sunday of Advent, called “Rejoice” or Gaudete Sunday from the opening word of its entrance song, especially stresses the joyous aspect of Advent in the reading from the prophet Zephaniah (“Shout for joy, O daughter Zion”), the responsorial antiphon from Isaiah, (“Cry out with joy and gladness”) and the reading from Philippians (“Rejoice in the Lord always!”).

This week, the liturgy of the Second Sunday is more subdued, but it too echoes a certain spirit of joy. The first reading from Baruch (a book used in the Sunday lectionary only on this day and at the Easter Vigil), urges Jerusalem to “take off your robe of mourning and misery,” and the following responsory assures us that “the Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.”

The second reading, from the letter to the Philippians, contains St. Paul’s fervent prayer for them (and for us!) that our love for Christ and for one another may continually increase, “so that with a clear conscience and blameless conduct you may learn to value the things that really matter, up to the very day of Christ.” Is this not an appropriate wish for us to take to heart, especially among the distractions that so often interfere with our concentration upon the real meaning of Christmas?

The major emphasis of this Sunday, in all three years of the Sunday cycle, is on John the Baptist, the herald or precursor who announced the coming of the Lord, pointed him out to the crowds, and baptized Jesus in the Jordan River after summoning Israel to repentance. He, too, tells us what should be our principal effort in this season.

In this Sunday’s Gospel, St. Luke situates John’s ministry precisely in time and place and makes it clear that he fulfilled the expectation of the prophets by quoting Isaiah’s beautiful text about the voice crying in the desert. This passage ends with a promise that sums up for us the good news that dominates the entire Advent-Christmas cycle: “All mankind shall see the salvation of God”!


FATHER CLAUDE PEIFER, OSB, is the former abbot of St. Bede Abbey in Peru. Previously he had served his community as master of novices and junior monks, as choirmaster, and as chief financial officer. His teaching and writing have been in the areas of sacred Scripture and monastic studies.

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