Evelyn Underhill was a Christian author who penned works on mysticism and on Christian spirituality. In her essay, “Our Twofold Relation to Reality,” she wrote: We are faced by two concepts, both needful if we are to make any sense of our human experience; the historical, natural, and contingent as well as the timeless, supernatural and absolute. They must be welded together, if we are to provide a frame for all the possibilities of human life. . .”
I personally feel that this insight is critical if we are to understand the Church’s season of Advent, for Advent is both a commemoration of the historical as well as a forward look to the future or timeless. We prepare for the celebration of the historical event of the nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ at the same time as we look forward to the event that we call the Parousia or Eschaton; in simple words, the second coming of Jesus Christ.
We hear from St. Paul today through his First Letter to the Thessalonians. This letter holds pride of place as the very first piece of the Christian Scriptures to be written. For that reason alone it gives a very good look at the mindset of the first century Christian. It also provides for us a glimpse of what will ultimately change in that mindset. In this letter, St. Paul reveals that he is firmly convinced that Jesus will return imminently. For that reason, he prays that God will make them grow in their love for one another so that when Jesus returns, he will find a community of disciples who are blameless and holy.
Of course, here we are some two thousand years later still waiting for that return. Jesus seems to have delayed. Because of that delay, the historical and natural aspect of our lives has accumulated centuries of misconduct on the part of Christians. We do not seem to be anything like the blameless and holy community which received St. Paul’s first letter.
With the passage of time, the human family has engaged in endless warfare, the pursuit of material wealth to the point that it has impoverished billions of people, and a complete distortion of the truth. Unfortunately, the Church has been guilty of the same sins and is now embroiled in bitter dissension among believers. Human society has literally broken down so disastrously that 68.5 million people fled their homes in 2018 because of violence and instability. Human beings have so ravaged the planet on which we live that thousands in the United States have been the victims of devastating storms, floods, and most recently, infernos that have wiped out whole communities.
It is in this context that we find ourselves praying once again, “Come, Lord Jesus, come. Come and save us from ourselves. Fulfill your promise to return and to establish your kingdom, to raise up a just shoot of the House of David who will do what is right and just.”
Another consequence of the delay in the second coming is that those who still count themselves among the blameless and the holy have, perhaps, become drowsy. Instead of standing vigilant and prepared to stand before the Son of Man, instead of standing erect and conducting ourselves in a way that is pleasing to our God, we have become complacent and put off the needful work of constantly turning to the Lord. We put off until tomorrow what we need to do today. We have forgotten the instructions that we have been given in the name of Jesus.
Each year we enter this solemn season full of expectation. Let us remember that God also has expectations of us. Until Jesus returns we are supposed to be the salt which preserves our society and the light which shines in the darkness. "Be with us, Lord, as we recall the promises you made; strengthen us in holiness. Make us blameless in your sight."
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator