byMost Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito, Bishop of Palm Beach
The season of Advent is coming to its conclusion. Advent literally means “coming” and signifies why the season is an appropriate time to prepare for Christ’s coming to us not only at Christmas but every day. Advent is an integral part of the Lord’s message. It may be surprising to realize how many times Jesus uses the word “come” in the four Gospels. The following are but a few examples; these and many others give us ample material for reflection during the final week of this holy season:
— “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill” (Mt 5:17″).
— “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name, Your Kingdom come” (Mt 6:9 – 10).
— “Come after me and I will make you fishers of men” (Mk 1:17).
— “Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also. For this purpose I have come” (Mk 1:38).
— “I did not come to call the righteous but sinners” (Mk 2:17″).
— “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest” (Lk 11:28).
— “The Son of Man will come when you least expect him” (Lk 12:40).
— “I have come to light a fire upon the earth “Lk 12:49).
— “Let the children come to me and do not hinder them for the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (Lk 18:16).
The Gospels are filled with the Lord’s words of Advent regarding Himself and others. The above are a mere sample of the many times Christ refers to His coming and His invitation to others to come to Him. His parables often use the arrival of someone to make a point. Indeed, the Gospel of Christ is based on Advent in the fullest sense of the word.
But perhaps no more sublime, and at the same time subtle, is the full impact of the advent of Jesus Christ than in the Gospel of St. John. In this Gospel Jesus consistently refers to His coming from the Father in order that we may come to Him. The following are but two examples of this constant refrain:
— “I have come to the world as its light” (Jn 12:46).
— “Everything that the Father gives me will come to me and I will not reject anyone who comes to me” (Jn 6:37).
It is precisely in the Gospel of St. John that the fullest liturgical meaning of the word “advent” as understood by the early Christians is most evident. It is here that the Lord tells us, “I am the living bread come down from heaven” (Jn 6:51). The parallel of these words is Jesus’ invitation to us, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger” (Jn 6:35). Jesus comes to us in the Eucharist, and we come to Him in the same manner. The Eucharist is Advent in its fullest manifestation — the coming of Christ to us and our acceptance of His invitation to come to Him.
The Eucharistic reference, par excellence, to the advent of Christ in St. John’s Gospel is in regard to “the coming of the hour of Jesus.” Jesus continually refers to His “coming hour” as the culmination of His mission and presence among us. In anticipation of this hour He tells His mother, Mary, at the Wedding Feast of Cana, “My hour has not yet come” (Jn 2:4). St. John reminds us when Jesus is not arrested at one point of the Gospel that it is because “His hour had not yet come” (Jn 8:20). Finally, Jesus comes to this hour and solemnly proclaims at the Last Supper, “Father, the hour has come” (Jn 17:1).
It is climactic that the advent of Christ’s hour is associated with the Last Supper at which Jesus instituted the Eucharist. At that Last Supper, Jesus, transcending time and space, anticipated His Passion, Death and Resurrection which became present to the apostles as He changed bread and wine into the sacrifice of His Body and Blood. That hour of Jesus is the one that we enter into every time we celebrate our hour of the Eucharist. Bread and wine not only become the very presence of Jesus Christ among us, but His Passion, Death and Resurrection also become present. The Eucharist is indeed the full advent of Christ which opens every hour into eternity.
When we celebrate the Eucharist, every Gospel reference of Christ to His coming takes on full significance. In the Eucharist He comes to us as sinners that He might remove our sin from us. In the Eucharist we who are burdened come to Him so that He might give us rest. In the Eucharist God’s Kingdom truly comes to us. In the Eucharist we become like children in order that we might enter that Kingdom. Every reason for Christ’s coming is realized in the Eucharist. Every avenue for us to come to Christ is also present in the Eucharist.
As we now come to conclusion of the Advent season, we appreciate that the hour of Christ has come. Advent is indeed the celebration of the arrival of Christ as He is fully present in the Eucharist. The Eucharist is the advent of Christ in the most sublime and mystical manner. As we prepare to come to Christmas this holy season, may the Eucharist help us to know His advent among us every hour of our life.