As with every season in the Church’s liturgical calendar, there are many facets to each one. None can be exhausted for the simple reason that each season is an invitation to enter into the mystery of the Triune God.
With Advent, I often return to a theme that is front and center in today’s readings: that this time of adventus — of “arrival” or “coming” — is apocalyptic. Advent really is apocalyptic, in the truest sense of that often misunderstood word. Many people equate “apocalypse” with cosmic destruction and earth-shattering doom. But while that association is not incorrect, it is certainly incomplete. Advent provides an opportunity to see the big picture more fully, to catch a deeper glimpse into God’s plan of salvation.
“Apocalypse” comes from Greek word apokalupsis, which refers to a revelation of something unknown before, a disclosure of truth or a public manifestation of something previously hidden. In the New Testament, it usually refers to the apocalypse, or revelation, of Jesus Christ as Savior, Lord and King. It is also used to describe the revealing of “the just judgment of God” (Rom 2:5), as well as the revelation of those who have been saved, the “children of God” (Rom 8:19). The latter two flow from the revelation of Christ, who is righteous Judge and merciful Savior.
Such is the revelation anticipated and desired by the prophets. The prophet Isaiah described a coming day when peace and justice would finally be realized, when the nations will “stream toward” the mountain of the Lord’s house. That house was the Temple, the dwelling place of God. With the Incarnation, God himself came to dwell among mankind. Jesus Christ was and is the new and everlasting Temple, and only through him will peace and justice be finally realized.
Isaiah wrote of walking in the light of the Lord. Advent is a call to walk in the light of the Incarnate Word and to hear his voice anew.
Just three decades or so after the Resurrection and Ascension, noted Msgr. Ronald Knox, it was already necessary for St. Paul “to remind Christians not to go to sleep about their religion — a poignant thought for the Christianity of our own age.” How different, really, are matters today compared to the first century? The night is advanced, the darkness is all around, and there are countless temptations to depart from the path lit by God’s word and grace.
While the “little apocalypse” presented by Jesus to the disciples contains plenty of complexity and mystery, it is also quite direct: “Therefore, stay awake!” Be prepared! At every moment, he beckons us. The details of future events aren’t entirely clear, but the promises of God certainly are. “So, too,” Jesus told the disciples, “you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.”
In between the two cosmic events of the Incarnation (the first Advent) and the Parousia (the final Advent) there is this Advent. Since we live in time, we look back to the birth of Christ and we look forward, in faith, to Christ’s coming in glory.
But since we live in Christ, we are able to really know and touch both. For in receiving the Eucharist, we receive the Incarnate Word, the Savior of the world, the King of kings, the Lord of lords.
This gift, this revelation, is truly apocalyptic, for it is the actual manifestation of salvation, peace and justice.
Carl E. Olson is the editor of Catholic World Report.