December 10, 2017
Archbishop Paul S. Coakley
The season of Advent prepares us to welcome Jesus Christ who comes in history, mystery and glory. What does that mean?
Jesus of Nazareth is an historical figure. He is not a myth. During these weeks of Advent leading to Christmas, most of our attention is focused on Jesus’ coming in history. More than 2,000 years ago Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem of Judea. The accounts of his birth are preserved in the Gospels. The word became flesh and dwelt among us. The Eternal Son of the Father truly became a human being. Jesus’ sojourn and saving mission among us began at a particular time and place. On Dec. 25, we celebrate the Solemnity of the Nativity, Jesus’ birth in history.
On Dec. 3, the First Sunday of Advent, the focus was on another “advent” or coming of Jesus, his Second Coming. As we profess in the Creed, we believe that “he will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his Kingdom will have no end.” Concerning this coming, we know neither the day nor the hour. In anticipation of his expected return, our attitude ought to be vigilance. We must watch and wait in expectant hope. Though he was born in human weakness, he will return in majesty and power, and his reign will be established forever.
Between his first coming in history and his return in glory, there is another “advent,” his coming in mystery. Jesus comes to us in mystery, especially when we celebrate the sacraments. He comes to us veiled under the appearance of bread and wine as often as we celebrate the Eucharist!
Faith, hope and love urge us to prepare our hearts to welcome him worthily every time we receive this precious sacrament. But, he also comes to us in the Scriptures, especially when his word is proclaimed in the liturgy or when we devoutly read and reflect on his word in the Bible. He is present to us in mystery in our encounters with one another, especially when we meet him “in the distressing disguise of the poor,” as Saint Teresa of Calcutta used to say.
In the well-known parable of the last judgment, Jesus reminds us that whatever we do or fail to do to the least ones, we do or fail to do to him (Mt. 25:31-46). He is truly and mysteriously present in our daily encounters with one another, especially with the poor and vulnerable. In this parable, we are reminded that each person who suffers has a claim on our love and mercy. Just as Jesus has shown mercy to us, we are to show mercy to one another.
Pope Francis has made it a hallmark of his pontificate to spotlight the plight of migrants and refugees. These are certainly among the least of our brothers and sisters. Forced by fear, violence or economic necessity to leave their homes and loved ones, they live as strangers in foreign lands without security or even the most basic requirements of human dignity.
These might be persecuted Christians from Syria, they might be Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar or DACA children in our parishes and schools. We are witnessing the most massive movement of refugees and migrants since the Second World War.
To our shame, we have to acknowledge that the default response in our society often is to politicize the plight of these vulnerable persons. Rather than responding in faith to their suffering and recognizing the dignity of these men, women and children, we first consider the potential political consequences of our actions (or inactions). Migrants and refugees are not our enemies. They are our brothers and sisters. They are Jesus’ mysterious presence among us.
Part of the narrative of Christmas is the plight of the Holy Family forced to flee their homeland at the murderous threats of King Herod. Jesus became a vulnerable refugee to restore us to our true homeland.
May this season of Advent open our minds and hearts to welcome Christ’s merciful coming to us in history, mystery and glory.