'O Come, O Come, Emmanuel'
Did you know that Advent traditionally is the liturgical season in which Catholics are called to meditate on the end of the world and the Second Coming of Christ?
You can hear that in the traditional hymn "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel." We're taking the part of Israel, to a certain extent, recalling their long wait for the Messiah, the prophet promised to them by Moses who would be sent from God and lead them, once again, to liberation. We're remembering the many, many generations of faithful men and women (and some not so faithful) in the lineage of Jesus, who culminate in the Blessed Virgin Mary, the great model and icon of faithful Israel, of Daughter Zion, who shall be made fruitful by God and bring forth the Son of David, the one called "Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace" (Is 9:6). And yet there's another sense, the sense in which we're looking forward to the end of the world, to the Second Coming of Christ.
Why on earth would we want to do that?
Because with the second coming of Jesus, good shall win definitively, and joy shall arrive. "He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, [for] the old order has passed away" (Rev 21:4).
Until that day comes, we are the pilgrim people of God, wandering in the desert of this "vale of tears" as the "Hail, Holy Queen" puts it, sustained by the manna of the Eucharist and the graces received through all the sacraments, on exodus from sin, passing through death into the Promised Land of life everlasting — if we are faithful to the covenant and trust in God's mercy.
And this hope of ours is the fruit of Christmas. Mary gave flesh and blood to the Divine Mercy of God, forming the first "image" of Divine Mercy in her own image and likeness, sharing with God her DNA, her family, her humanity. She took Jesus, the Bread from Heaven (see Jn 6:32, 35, 51), and laid Him in the manger, the place where the creatures of the earth would eat their grain, in Bethlehem, which translates to House of Bread.
Christmas is marked by the Last Supper, and by the cross, for the God who would be rejected by humanity and hung on a cross found no room in man's houses at the time of His birth, and had to be sheltered in a stable, alongside Mary and Joseph, two of the greatest saints the Church will ever know. The Wise Men brought with them the gifts of gold for a king and frankincense for God, but they also carried with them myrrh, used to anoint bodies for burial. Jesus lived on to one day accomplish His mission for the salvation of the world, but Herod set forth in wrath and so many Holy Innocents died in Bethlehem that first Christmas time.
As with all the Christian life, Christmas is joy and hope, even in the midst of suffering and the Cross. "The people who sit in darkness have seen a great light; on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death, light has arisen" (Mt 4:16). We will be called to conversion and contemplation of the end of the world by the Advent readings at Mass, and on Christmas Day, we will still hear the priest pray the words, "On the night He was betrayed, He took bread ... "
The angels sing, and the shepherds watch, and night crouches close by at bay, snarling at the One who would defeat it. The Lord comes, and life breaks forth from the Virgin's womb, the supernatural triumph of life over death joined with human birth, the perennial rejection of death, the perennial overcoming of it — and Herod slays the children.
So let us rejoice and be glad, for Christ has come, and will come again, but let us never forget all those who will suffer this Christmas in the dark and the cold. Let us bring the light of Christ to those who dwell in darkness, those who have never seen the great light. Let us be the love of Christ present to the world, praying for those who are persecuted, doing the works of mercy for all in need, and sharing the hope of God.