Cardinal Vincent Nichols
Advent is a time of prayer. It invites us to focus our prayer on the threefold coming of Christ. His first in the manger, his second, in his return and his third into our lives. We look to the examples of prayer we see in the lives of Mary, Zechariah, Simeon and Anna and the example of St John the Baptist and the Magi.
Their beautiful canticles, prayers, exhortations and gestures help us contemplate the two great mysteries of faith: the Incarnation but also the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.
The great mystery of faith lies in the distinctive truth of the Incarnation, God made man, the Word made flesh. So too the Second Coming, the return of the King is the great hope of our faith. We believe, celebrate and live our faith with joyful hearts:
‘O marvellous exchange! Our Creator was born a man, born of the Virgin’, With bold expectancy we exclaim, ‘Come, Lord Jesus, Come.’
Finding time to shop, cook and buy presents is hard enough, let alone finding time to pray. Those busy caring for the home, the mechanic hard at work in his workshop or the nurse working nights, have their challenges and struggles. So too does the busy parish priest and even the monk in his cell. Perhaps making space for prayer is less about finding time and more about an interior disposition, an attitude of the heart.
St John the Baptist’s call to conversion, Mary’s Magnificat, Zechariah’s Benedictus, Simeon’s Nunc Dimittis and the worship of the Magi all share a common thread: praise, thanksgiving, adoration and worship of the Living God.
For what is prayer if not the raising of one’s mind and heart to God and asking good things from our heavenly Father? Yet this is our greatest good, the birth of the Saviour.
How beautifully Romanos the Melodist prayed:
‘The Virgin today brings into the world the Eternal And the earth offers a cave to the Inaccessible. The angels and shepherds praise him. And the magi advance with the star. For you are born to us. Little Child, God Eternal.’ (Kontakion)
When we give God praise and worship, we receive a hundredfold of blessings in return. Joy, faith, hope and love overflow in our hearts. Whether we realize it or not, prayer is the encounter of God’s thirst with ours. God thirsts for us that we may thirst for God.
But do we thirst for the Second Coming, the return of the King?
Advent is a wonderful opportunity to renew our faith in this great truth of faith.
We think of Advent and Christmastide as a celebration of the first coming of Christ – Jesus, humble, born in a manger, the Eternal Word made flesh. This is so, but the Church also makes present the ancient expectancy of the return of the Messiah, the Second Coming of Jesus. The season of Advent invites us to renew this ardent, profound and heartfelt desire for the return of Christ.
This is expressed through prayers of longing, anticipation and expectation. In order to pray for the Second Coming we need the help of the Holy Spirit, through whom we pray, ‘Jesus is Lord’ and ‘Come, Lord Jesus, Come.’ The Spirit and the Bride say ‘Come.’
Thinking about, let alone praying for the Second Coming, can be difficult. This central teaching of faith can seem distant and remote.
The Spirit helps us in our weakness. The Spirit intercedes for us, with groaning too deep for words. (Romans 8:26)
The prayer of the Spirit and the Bride is ‘Come, Lord Jesus, Come’ (Revelation 22:17). The Scriptures too have gifted us with the ancient Aramaic word ‘Marana tha’, appearing only once in the Scriptures, meaning ‘Come, Lord’ (1Corinthians 16:22). Try reciting ‘Marana tha’ silently as four equally stressed syllables, ‘Ma-ra-na-tha’: it has a harmonic, soothing and comforting quality.
We don’t tend to think of Advent as a time to recall that Jesus will return, but we must be ready for it. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI expressed this beautifully: ‘While our hearts look forward to the celebration of Christ’s birth, the liturgy directs our gaze to the final goal; our encounter with the Lord who will come in the splendour of glory.’ How do we direct our gaze during such a busy and frenetic time of the year?
Time seems sparse and precious; finding time to pray can be wishful thinking. And yet, when we want to, we can.
The Latin phrase, ‘Carpe diem’ (‘seize the day’) is vigorous, robust; simply try and grab a moment here or a brief reprieve there. In these moments we lift up our hearts and praise the Lord.
The early Church believed the Second Coming to be imminent. ‘Imminent’ means ‘about to happen’. St Peter wrote: ‘The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers’ (1 Peter 4:7).
The Second Coming remains imminent: ‘Since the Ascension, Christ’s coming in glory has been imminent, even though “it is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has fixed by his own authority”’ (CCC 673). Despite its imminence St Peter addressed its delay:
‘But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is a thousand years and a thousand years as one day’ (1 Peter 3:8). Two thousand years have passed, a mere two days to the Lord, because time is in his hands.
During this special and holy season may we magnify the Lord, rejoice in God our Saviour, and sing with joy: ‘Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth.’ The birth of the Eternal King is the source of our joy and hope and we groan, moan and long for Jesus to return. ‘Come, Lord Jesus, Come.’