Today the Advent Season starts and, with it, the new liturgical year. This year we also resume from the beginning the three-year cycle of readings with the Year A, during which we are going to read the gospel of Matthew.
Advent is a time of preparation for Christmas. Since this year Christmas is falling on Sunday, we will have four full weeks of preparation for this great solemnity. But the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us of another aspect of this liturgical season: “When the Church celebrates the liturgy of Advent each year, she makes present [the] ancient expectancy of the Messiah, for by sharing in the long preparation for the Savior’s first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desire for his second coming” (#524).
That is why we read, during Advent, the utterances of the ancient prophets; so, we can relive the Jewish expectancy of the Messiah’s coming. That is the best way to get ready for celebrating his birthday. The Catechism calls the historical birth of Jesus “first coming,” because we are waiting for his “second coming.” So, we are somehow in the same condition of the ancient Jews: we too are waiting, like them, for our Savior’s coming—for his second coming. In this way, we can really share in the same feelings of expectation.
That is the reason why, especially during the first part of Advent, the liturgical texts are mostly about this second coming. Take today’s readings: the three of them are an invitation for us to look at the final things. The first reading portrays the eternal peace of the Kingdom of God, toward which we are directed. The second reading invites us to awake from sleep. Why? “For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed; the night is advanced, the day is at hand. Let us then throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” Notice: firstly, we are waiting for our salvation, not for our damnation. So, why to be afraid? Secondly, to get this salvation, we have to put off the old man and put on the new man. What does it mean? Paul tells us to get rid of orgies and drunkenness, promiscuity and lust, rivalry and jealousy, and take on the attitudes of Jesus Christ himself.
The gospel could seem less encouraging than Paul. Actually, unlike what we usually think, Jesus’ words are often harsh; not because he likes to frighten us, but because he wants to confront us with our responsibility. The teaching of today’s gospel is quite clear: “The Son of Man will come.” That is sure. The only problem is that we do not know when. Jesus says: “At an hour you do not expect.” That is why he adds: “You must be prepared,” because, if so, whenever he comes, he will find us ready. Hence, his invitation to watchfulness: “Therefore, stay awake! (Vigilate ergo) For you do not know on which day your Lord will come.” We should be like the master of the house who stays always awake, lest the thief breaks into the house. We should not be like the contemporaries of Noah, who lived carefree, without realizing the impending danger. “They were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day that Noah entered the ark.” It seems the description of today’s mankind. Usually, we are inclined to justify unaware people; but in this case there is no excuse, because God sends us his warnings; but we prefer to disregard them. God often sends us also his prophets, but we prefer to ridicule and oppose them. So, we cannot say: “We did not know,” even because Jesus himself warned us. We know that “at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.” We have no choice: we cannot but get ready for his coming. Sooner or later, he is coming back; so, it is better for us to be found prepared. It’s worth it.