November 27, 2022 Essay: Is Jesus Coming?

Nov 17, 2022

Today we begin the season of Advent and the beginning of a new Church year.

Advent always begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day and ends on Christmas Eve. If Christmas Eve falls on a Sunday, it is counted as the fourth Sunday of Advent, with Christmas Eve proper beginning at sundown. By any calculation, Advent is quite brief.

The Church regards Advent as a time of waiting and longing for God’s promises to be fulfilled. One of the Readings at Mass on Christmas Day speaks of us “awaiting our blessed hope, that is, the glorious coming of the Great God, our Savior Jesus Christ.” Advent is this “awaiting our blessed hope. Our waiting and longing are summed up in the one word “Come.” The coming of the Lord is hinted at in the very first pages of scripture—in the third chapter of Genesis, and on the last page—in the Book of Revelation—there still stands the prayer: “Come, Lord Jesus.

The renowned Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner, who died in 1984 and who had been appointed by Pope John XXIII as a “peritus” (expert advisor) to the Second Vatican Council, wrote some of his clearest and most helpful thoughts on Advent in his spiritual classic Encounters with Silence. In that book, Rahner addresses God: “You tell me that you have already come, that your name is Jesus, son of Mary, and that I know in what place and at what time I can find you. That’s all true, of course, Lord—but forgive me if I say that this coming of yours seems to me more like a going, more like a departure than an arrival. Is your humble human existence from Bethlehem to Calvary really the coming which was to redeem wretched humankind from its misery?

Rahner answers his own question in part by saying: “Slowly a light is beginning to dawn. I’m beginning to understand you are still in the process of your coming. Your appearance in the form of a slave was only the beginning of your coming, a beginning in which you chose to redeem human beings by embracing the very slavery from which you were freeing them. It is said that you will come again, and this is true. But the word again is misleading. It won’t really be ‘another’ coming, because you have never really gone away. In the human existence which you made your own for all eternity, you have never left us.”

Rahner concludes with a statement and a prayer. “Behold, you come. And your coming is neither past nor future, but the present, which has only to reach its fulfillment. Now it is still the one single hour of your advent, at the end of which we too shall have found out that you have really come. O God who is to come, grant me the grace to live now, in the hour of your advent, in such a way that I may merit to live in you forever, in the blissful hour of your eternity.”

At the celebration of every Mass, immediately after the consecration, the priest announces: “The mystery of faith.” The congregation then proclaims one of the prescribed formulas of faith. Here is a common one: When we eat this bread, and drink this cup, we proclaim your Death, O Lord, until you come again. During Advent, an alternate formula might very well be: Christ has come, Christ still comes, Christ will come again. His coming “again” will be the fulfillment of his coming now.

— Rev. William J. Bergen, S.J., Senior Priest