First Vespers, November 28, 2009
Dear brothers and sisters:
With this Vespers celebration, we enter the liturgical season of Advent. In the Biblical reading that we just heard, taken from the first Letter to the Thessalonians, the Apostle Paul invites us to prepare for "the coming of the Lord, our Jesus Christ" (5,23), who preserves us blameless, with the grace of God.
Paul uses the word 'coming' - in Latin, adventus, whence the term Advent. Let us reflect briefly on the meaning of this word, which can be translated as 'presence', 'arrival', 'coming'.
In the language of the ancient world, it was a technical term used to indicate the arrival of a functionary, the visit of the king or emperor to a province. But it could also mean the arrival of divinity, who emerges from hiding to manifest itself with power, or whose presence is celebrated in worship.
Christians adopted the word Advent to express their relationship with Jesus Christ: Christ is the King, who has entered this poor 'province' called earth to make a visit to everyone. In the feast of His coming, all participate who believe in Him, all who believe in His presence in the liturgical assembly.
The word adventus was substantially intended to say: God is here, he has not retired from the world, he has not left us alone. Even if we cannot see and touch Him as we can with sensible realities, He is here and comes to visit us in multiple ways.
The significance of the word Advent thus also comprehends that of visitatio, which means a visit pure and simple. In this case, it is a visit by God: He enters my life and addresses himself to me. Yet we all experience in daily life that we have little time for the Lord, and little time even for ourselves. We end up being absorbed by 'doing'.
Is it not perhaps true that often it is this activity that possesses us, that it is society with its multiple interests that monopolizes our attention? Is it not perhaps true that we devote too much time to diversions and amusements of various kinds? Sometimes, things 'overwhelm' us.
Advent, this important liturgical time that we are beginning, invites us to pause in silence to understand a presence. It is an invitation to understand that the single events of the day are signs that God addresses to us, signs of the attention that he has for each of us.
How often God makes us perceive something of his love! To keep an interior diary, so to speak, of this love would be a beautiful and healthy task in our life.
Advent invites and stimulates us to contemplate the Lord who is present. Should not the certainty of his presence help us to see the world with different eyes? Should it not help us to consider all of our existence as a 'visit', as a way in which He can come to us and be near to us in every situation?
Another fundamental element of Advent is waiting - which is at the same time, hope. Advent impels us to understand the sense of time and history as kairos, as a favorable occasion for our salvation.
Jesus has illustrated this mysterious reality in many parables: in the story of the servants asked to await the return of the master; in the parable of the virgins awaiting the spouse; or in that about sowing and harvesting.
In life, man is in a constant state of waiting: As a child, he wants to grow; as an adult, he aims for realization and success; as he advances in age, he aspires for a deserved rest. But the time comes when he discovers that he has hoped too little, if beyond professional or social position, he has nothing more to hope for.
Hope marks the path of humanity, but for Christians, it is inspired by a certainty: The Lord is present in the course of our life, he accompanies us and one day he will dry our tears. One day, not far, everything will find its fulfillment in the Kingdom of God, a kingdom of justice and peace.
But there are different ways of waiting.
If the time is not filled with a present that has sense, waiting risks becoming insupportable. If one expects something, but for now, there is nothing - that is, if the present remains empty - then every moment that passes appears exaggeratedly long, and waiting is transformed into a very grave weight, since the future remains completely uncertain.
But when time is endowed with sense, and in every instant. we perceive something specific and valid, then the joy of waiting makes the present more precious.
Dear brothers and sisters, let is live the present intensely, in which already the gifts of the Lord are at hand. Let us live the present projected towards the future, a future full of hope.
Christian Advent becomes in this way an occasion to re-establish in us the true sense of waiting, returning to the heart of our faith which is the mystery of Christ. The Messiah who had been awaited for many centuries was born in poverty in Bethlehem.
In coming into our midst, he brought us and continues to offer us the gift of his love and his salvation. Present among us, he speaks to us in many ways: in Sacred Scripture, in the liturgical year, in the saints, in the events of daily life, in all of Creation which changes its aspect depending on whether Christ is behind it all or is obscured by a fog of uncertain origin and uncertain future.
In turn, we can address ourselves to him, present him with the sufferings that afflict us, the impatience, the questions which gush forth from our heart. We can be sure that he always listens to us!
And if Jesus is present, there is no time that is empty or devoid of sense. If He is present, we can continue to hope even if others can no longer assure of us of any support, even when the present becomes arduous.
Dear friends, Advent is the time of the presence of the eternal as we wait for it. For this very reason, it is in a special way a time of joy, of an internalized joy that no suffering can annul - it is joy at the fact that God made himself a Baby.
This joy, invisibly present in us, encourages us to walk on confidently. The model and support for such intimate joy is the Virgin Mary, through whom the Baby Jesus was given to us.
May she, faithful disciple of her Son, obtain for us the grace to live this liturgical time vigilant and industrious in our waiting. Amen!