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Advent: God acts to save us

Archbishop Wenski's column for the November 2022 edition of the Florida Catholic

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When we sit down to watch a movie, we don’t usually fast forward to watch the final scenes first. Rather we start the film at the beginning. Well, Advent proceeds differently: It begins with the end. Advent tells us to “watch” – but this is not like watching a movie where we can just sit there. We watch a movie and later we will give our review, our judgment on whether it was a good movie or not. Advent tells us to “watch,” to be vigilant – because we will be the ones reviewed, our lives will be judged – and vigilant we must be since we do not know the day or the hour.

A ship that does not know its destination will just drift aimlessly across the seas. And if we do not know our end we can drift aimlessly through life. That’s why Advent starts with the end – because it’s important for us to understand that our lives are going someplace and that someplace will be sorted out on the Day of Judgment when Christ will return to judge the living and the dead. Like Isaiah, one of those “Advent” prophets we hear in the liturgies of Advent, we do well to pray to God saying: “Would that you might meet us doing right, that we were mindful of you in our ways.”

We will be judged – and that should concern us; but not paralyze us with fear, because even as the Advent season begins with the end, it ends with the beginning: the beginning of God’s kingdom on earth when the Son of God takes on our flesh and is born of the Virgin Mary. That beginning which the Advent season prepares us to celebrate reveals that God’s judgment is that we – all of us – are worth saving. Jesus is God’s judgment of the world – but Jesus comes in mercy and grace. For God sent his only begotten Son into the world not to condemn the world but to save it.

Isaiah seems to be describing our world as much as he was describing his world: “There is none who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to cling to you...” The ascendant secularism of our times has pushed God to the margins of life – and a world without God is like a desert – a dry, arid, hostile place, a place without life, without hope.

 The Scripture readings of Advent — drawn mostly from Isaiah — tell us of how God prepared Israel and the world for the coming of the promised Messiah. As we pray in the fourth Eucharistic prayer: “And when through disobedience he (mankind) had lost your friendship, you did not abandon him to the domain of death. For you came in mercy to the aid of all, so that those who seek might find you. Time and again you offered them covenants and through the prophets taught them to look forward to salvation. And in the fullness of time, you sent your Only Begotten Son to be our Savior.”

God acts to save us — for God so loved the world that he sent his Son to be our Savior. Jesus is Emmanuel: which is translated “God is with us” but also means “God is for us.”

God saves us freely — but he does not save us without our consent, without our collaboration, without our obedient acceptance of his Will.

Jesus comes into our world to bring us peace, joy; he comes to show us the Father and to forgive our sins. And as God chose a people in the Old Testament to collaborate with him in carrying out his plan, so Jesus chose apostles and disciples – he chooses us – to collaborate with him “announcing to the world the good news of  salvation.”

Advent lets us see the end of the story even as we prepare to celebrate the story’s beginning in a town called Nazareth where the Angel Gabriel was sent to a young maiden named Mary.

We know where we are going – and so we go forward in hope. We must be convinced that if the Lord takes us to it, he’ll see us through it. After all, Advent reminds us that God so loved the world, he sent us his Son. We are worth saving.