Advent has a dual focus on Jesus’s coming, both in his first coming among us as a man and his coming at the end of time. Although this can, at times, lead to confusion, this twofold approach to the season allows Advent to teach us about God’s presence among us. In Advent, we learn that God is the basis of hope, and that such hope is the basis for increasing our love of this life.
Not just a future
Eternity is often thought of as a future goal alone. Thoughts like “when I enter eternal life” or “I look forward to eternity” can reveal attitudes that indicate that we might believe God only to be in our future. What this implies, however, is a loss of the presence of God in the here and now, creating a sense of distance between us and God. With this view, God is no longer close to us and our experience.
But Advent exists to retool or restore our vision. By focusing on the two comings of Christ, the Advent season reminds us that one cannot exist without the other. Eternity is a goal, yes, but it is also present now — albeit seen dimly as though through a mirror (see 1 Cor 13:12). Eternity enters our time and creation in Jesus, elevating all creation into eternity. The liturgy, the sacraments and the Church itself have become the means by which Christ makes himself present to us today — and therefore eternity is also in our midst, though not in its fullness due to the continued fallenness of the world. Where Jesus is, there is eternity, and we know he is not restrained to heaven alone. Advent helps us to see with fresh eyes that our eternal goal is already in progress because Christ is here with us. Because of his coming among us as man, eternity is within our grasp.
The foundation of hope
So often we reduce hope to wishful thinking: “I hope I win the lottery” or “I hope this job situation works out,” and so forth. This unfortunate reduction of hope has removed the virtue’s central character from Christian consciousness. Hope without a guarantee is just wishful thinking. Hope needs some guarantee if it is to be truly hope.
If eternity is present already in Christ, then hope finds its guarantee in him. We have hope because we already see the effects of Jesus in our lives and in the life of the Church. Hope gives us the ability to see Christ in all, to encounter him in prayer and sacrament, and to hear him in the Scriptures. All this gives our lives an enduring character. Christian hope says life is not fleeting, but rather is enduring because it is united to Jesus’s own life. Advent is the training ground of hope — of recognizing God’s presence as saving — in the face of whatever is fleeting and passing. Advent is the season of hope.
Increasing our desire
Advent, as a season of hope, helps increase our desire for God. This is done not only by seeing Him as a future goal, but also by seeing him as someone whom we can encounter today. We meet him and attain our unity with him through the state of life to which he calls us, and through the circumstances of life. God’s presence among us becomes clearer to us as we advance in the Christian journey. It is the unfolding of a mystery. And Advent is a time for us to focus on that especially.
This mystery will be revealed when we see God face to face. Heaven is in our midst today through Jesus’s presence among us. So if Jesus isn’t present to us today — meaning our heavenly goal is unattainable — then Christianity is just a fairy tale, a myth or wishful thinking. But if we look at life not as something to be avoided, but something to be embraced, we find that God is running toward us in Christ’s Incarnation, meeting us in our lives in such a way that he draws us into God’s own life. And this coming of Christ is what Advent is all about.
In the encounter of God we meet the One who loves us first, we experience his love as something life-giving. When we experience love like this, we cannot help but desire the One who seeks us. Seeing Advent as a time to increase our desire for God, then, we learn to experience Christ as the One who is always coming to meet us, always drawing us to himself. By embracing our vocation, our state of life and the situations of our lives, we also embrace opportunities of encounter with God. Advent, then, is our opportunity to recommit ourselves to encountering him through these things. By turning toward the Lord in this way, we will experience his love for us, which will increase our desire for Him, thereby increasing our hope.
Father Harrison Ayre is a priest of the Diocese of Victoria, British Columbia. Follow him on Twitter at @FrHarrison.