Advent comes once a year but in its fullest meaning it refers to three distinct “comings” of the Lord. Hence we can speak of Three Advents.
The first Advent is about the coming of the Messiah in history. This is the Advent which is uppermost in our minds as we prepare for the annual commemoration of the birth of Jesus at Christmas We rightly try to “prepare the way of the Lord” in our personal lives and in our faith community. It is a time when the Liturgy is particularly rich with messianic readings and hope.
The last Advent is the coming of the same Lord, Jesus Christ, but at the end of the ages when he will come in glory. The Church tries to alert us in these weeks to the end times and offers us many prayers filled with joyful expectation of the final manifestation of the triumph of Good over Evil, of Grace over Sin, of Light over Darkness: this will be the time when “all flesh shall see the salvation of our God”.
But there is another Advent which spans the first and the last Advent. This is the daily Advent when Christ comes to us in mystery, in prayer, in the sacraments, in moments of grace, in charity. This is the Advent which graces each of our days spent in love and service of God and neighbour.
St Bernard tells us plainly: “His first coming was in the flesh and in weakness, the last coming will be in glory and majesty, the intermediary coming is in the Spirit and power”.
Again St Bernard explains: “In the first coming Christ was our Redemption. In the last he will appear as our Life, in this intermediary coming, he is our rest and consolation”.
May we so celebrate Advent this year that we our holy longing and expectation may be fully realised in a Christmas that is full of grace.
Fr Sean Wales, C.Ss.R.