Cardinal Blase J. Cupich

He who is to come

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

We tend to look on the season of Advent as the time to prepare for celebrating the birth of Jesus in a stable on Christmas. But a careful study of the readings chosen for Advent in the early centuries reveals that the church at the start of a new liturgical year was more concerned with celebrating Jesus as “he who is to come.”

For instance, the Advent Gospels, dating back to the time of Pope Gregory the Great (590-604), make no mention of the birth of Jesus. Instead, the faithful heard such stories as the miracle at Cana, the welcoming of Jesus into Jerusalem, the multiplication of the loaves and fishes.

What these texts had in common was that they all proclaimed Jesus as “he who is to come.” With these Gospels portraying Jesus as the “coming one,” without any specific historical reference in time (for example, his birth in Bethlehem), Advent in those early centuries celebrated Jesus as the one who constantly comes into our lives at all times. 

With the restoration of the liturgy following the Second Vatican Council, the church recaptures this earlier approach of proclaiming Jesus as the one who continually comes into our world. Notice that we begin the celebration of Advent with a Gospel reading in which the adult Jesus speaks about the coming of the Son of Man as a decisive event in human history.

Advent concludes on the fourth Sunday with an account of Jesus’ birth. The point is clear: The birth of Jesus changed the course of human history, as it began the destruction of a world dominated by sin. Christmas is about more than Jesus’ birth in that Bethlehem stable 2,000 years ago. The birth of Jesus is about the birth of a new world in which Jesus continues to move human history toward the fulfillment of God’s plan of salvation.

The addition of two Gospels in weeks two and three of Advent, depicting John the Baptist as the one who witnesses to the coming of Christ, is an invitation for us — not so much to prepare for Christmas, but to prepare the way of the Lord in all times, including our own, by living our lives with joy and hope as witnesses to the salvation Christ brings.

Advent’s focus on Christ as “the one who is to come” offers us a much richer understanding of the meaning of Christmas. Jesus not only came into the world to change the course of human history two thousand years ago, but he continues to come in the simple and hidden ways, not unlike his birth, to bring his mission as savior of the world to fulfillment. 

This is a much-needed message in our time. We know how frightening it can be to face the many challenges that seem to control our lives and pretend to write the story of human history — the pandemic, climate change, violence in our streets and in the world, the suffering of so many around the globe because of poverty, hunger, war and forced migration.

Advent can be an antidote to the worry, pessimism and despair that grip our hearts in the midst of so much turmoil in the world. It can be a season to deepen our trust that the Lord accompanies us on the journey, that God has not abandoned us to the vagaries of life, even if there is so much about our existence that would lead us to believe otherwise. For this season comes to remind us that Jesus is truly Emmanuel — God-with-us.

Trusting in “he who is to come” has the power to liberate us to be joyful and hopeful, true witnesses to Christ’s coming into the world. May your celebration of Advent be a blessing to the world.



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