Lo! He Comes!
December 3, 2017
We begin the season of Advent today. It is as short as it can possibly be this year, because of the way Christmas falls: just 22 days long. That means that we have a limited time to do what Jesus Christ wants us to do this season. Far more important than getting ready for exchanges of presents, holiday cooking, traveling, partying and so on is the true core of the season: remembering with wonder and awe that God entered into our human history as a helpless infant – truly man, the divine majesty of God hidden in the infant nursing at the breast of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In contrast to this incredible humility of God, we look forward to Jesus coming again in glory, when the full majesty of God’s divinity will be revealed to all mankind in ways literally beyond our imagination.
This latter half is often completely forgotten and neglected in our celebration of Advent. Not only because the secular push of the “holiday season” tends to drown out the significance of Jesus’ Incarnation, and because we tend to rush the celebration of Christmas weeks before it happens, but also because we focus almost exclusively on the sentimental side of Jesus the Baby at the expense of praying to be ready when Jesus the Judge will come again on that terrible, awesome day. The baby in the crib seems real to us, but the Divine Messiah coming to judge the world – not so much.
Even the music we sing tends to focus exclusively on the sentimental side. Modern hymns such as “Silent Night” are still wildly popular but the ones on the Second Coming less so. That’s why I think one of the best preparations for Advent is to read and pray some of the great Christian Advent hymns that do complete the picture. (Hint: There are more out there than just, “O come! O Come! Emmanuel). Their poetry and theology are beautiful. One that I particularly recommend is “Lo! He Comes with Clouds Descending,” written by the great 18th century hymnist Charley Wesley. You can find it on YouTube. I recommend the version by the Lincoln Cathedral Choir, with great swelling organ work and great choral harmony. You can find the lyrics at hymnary.org.
Our parish music directory selected it last week for the feast of Christ the King, the “bridge” from the old year to the new Advent season. In concise, elegant poetry, it contains just about everything Advent stands for: visions of the white-robed Communion of saints in Heaven we hope to join after our judgment; the grave sorrow we have at the crucifixion of Christ and the deep sorrow we will have for our sins when Christ does come again; the sense of anticipation at Christ’s second coming as His saints meet Him in the air on that glorious day; the plaintive cry to come quickly.
It certainly reminds us that we should keep the main thing the main thing in life: preparing ourselves spiritually to be ready to meet Christ as if each day could be the last before He comes (which it just might be). That is the Gospel message today. One critically important way to do that is to go to confession this Advent season. I will be hearing confessions between all the Sunday Masses to make that easier for you.
Finally, here are some excerpts from that wonderful hymn, to whet your appetite: “Lo! He comes, with clouds descending, once for our salvation slain; thousand saints attending swell the triumph of his train. Alleluia! God appears on earth to reign … Every eye shall now behold Him, robed in dreadful majesty, those who set at naught and sold Him, pierced and nailed Him to the tree, deeply wailing, shall the true Messiah see.”