Each year when we begin our preparation for Christmas with the season of Advent, we listen to an instruction by Saint Cyril of Jerusalem:
“We do not preach only one coming of Christ, but a second as well, much more glorious than the first. The first coming was marked by patience; the second will bring the crown of a divine kingdom.
In general, whatever relates to our Lord Jesus Christ has two aspects. There is a birth from God before the ages, and a birth from a virgin at the fullness of time. There is a hidden coming, like that of rain on fleece, and a coming before all eyes, still in the future.
At the first coming he was wrapped in swaddling clothes in a manger. At his second coming he will be clothed in light as in a garment. In the first coming he endured the cross, despising the shame; in the second coming he will be in glory, escorted by an army of angels. We look then beyond the first coming and await the second. At the first coming we said: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. At the second we shall say it again; we shall go out with the angels to meet the Lord and cry out in adoration: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”
– Office of Readings, 1st Sunday of Advent
These words mark the anticipation of the Christian life. We sit between two comings of Christ, and, St Cyril reminds us, when the Lord comes again, it will not be clothed in silence in a manger. At the second coming, there will be no mistake that the Lord is here. But in our waiting for that day that only the Father knows, what is our attitude of waiting?
Jesus tells us what our attitude should be like. When the disciples questioned him about the signs that the end was near, Jesus responded, “But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come…whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning. May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!’” (Mark 13:32-33, 35-37)
The first disciples of Jesus thought that the Lord would return in their lifetime. They committed all their resources to getting the word out, proclaiming the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth. As one Disciple after another began to die, it made them wonder, where is the Messiah? Isn’t He coming back soon? Urgency turned to hesitancy. Many possibly returned to their previous lives. Their vigilance turned its energies to ordinary tasks.
To think, we’ve been waiting for the Messiah’s return for not quite two thousand years. And, a general pattern follows that after a period of complacency, believers find themselves persecuted and must choose whether what they believe is worth dying for. We see many signs that any hope for the return of Christ is fading from our cultural memory. The memory is clouded with a sense of urgency for what is not eternal. Eternal seems so far a way, like an old fairy tale. But it is not a fairy tale and the words of Jesus are words for our generation:
“Be watchful! Be alert!…Watch!”
To have such a capacity comes from a life formed by prayer and worship. For these require discipline which also prepares the heart for hardship and difficult choices. Do we have such an attitude that will sustain our waiting? Are we willing to wait in patience and vigilance, without letting hope of His coming die in our hearts?
Come Lord Jesus! Come soon!