Advent is here and as is the case every year, modern disciples are looking for ways to better enter into the liturgical season. We seek the collective wisdom of the masses, reaching out on social media and in person, asking for ideas from other Christian women about how to avoid being swept up in the secular and better focus on Christ’s coming. So I’d like to present you with a theological tidbit from a Doctor of the Church and give you some practical things upon which to meditate and put into action.
The Three Comings of Christ
In a sermon given back in the 11th century, St. Bernard of Clairvaux relayed the teaching of the Three Comings of Christ. That’s right, three… not just two. It was a concept I had never heard of before college. It might have been one of the reasons that I didn’t know Jesus was present now on earth and that he was not just some distant Being off in Heaven I’d meet at the end of my life.
St. Bernard says that the first coming of Jesus was His historical coming: when He was born in Bethlehem, ministered to the world for three years, and suffered His Passion for our salvation.
The second coming of Christ is within the heart of every individual. It is a conversion of heart and a relationship founded.
The third coming is what we often refer to as the “Second Coming” of Christ when He will physically come to earth again in power and in glory.
All three of these comings are important in the life of a Christian, as all three of them have a hand in our personal salvation. Thus, Advent is the perfect time to meditate upon them and try to observe them in some way.
Observing the First Coming: Christ in History
Over 2,000 years ago, God became man. The Eternal entered time, and now almost everything about this world is measured according to that event. No one has had as big of an impact on this world as Jesus of Nazareth.
The absolute best way to observe this coming is to spend time over the next twenty days exploring the Old Testament stories leading up to Jesus.
How to Live It
There are a plethora of ways you can do this, but here are just a few traditional practices of Catholics throughout the Advent Season.
- All the Generations Advent and Christmas Devotional from Blessed is She // It explores Jesus’ lineage through the ages, connecting it all the way into modern times directly to you.
- A Jesse Tree // Don’t feel like you have to go “all out” in order to observe this custom. You don’t need a tree or ornaments or symbols. All that stuff is simply icing on the cake. Find a good online source, and simply read. You’ll read about the mistakes mankind made and the mercy God continued to show them. Use this for your own personal prayer time without the added fuss.
- A Children’s Bible // You’re busy… you probably can’t read through the entirety of the forty-six books of the Old Testament within the next few weeks. However, you might be able to borrow a children’s Bible (from your kid or the library) and make your way through that before Christmas comes! Reading all the stories in such a short amount of time will give you a new found appreciation for—and maybe even some new insights into—the story of Salvation History.
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Observing the Second Coming: Christ in my Heart
About five years ago, I remember sitting in the church pew on Christmas Eve, waiting for the vigil Mass to begin. I just felt “icky.” That season had been so busy, so stressful, so rushed. I just felt as though I had been the absolute worst version of myself for that entire month. I took this emotion to Jesus in prayer, feeling ashamed and unworthy as I presented it to Him, getting ready to apologize for not being “spiritually prettier” for His Coming. He stopped me and said, “That’s kind of the point.”
Jesus came to earth to save me from the most vile version of myself. And He continuously comes, day after day, year after year, to help me. Since then, especially during Advent, I pray specifically for Christ to enter more fully into my heart.
How to Live It
The best ways to observe this coming are to focus your efforts specifically on conversion of your own heart.
- The St. Andrew Novena // I love the sentimentality behind this novena. Andrew was the first disciple of Jesus, and it was he who brought Peter and some of the others to Christ saying, “We have found the Messiah” (John 1:41). This novena invokes his intercession, asking him to do the same for us. It began a few days ago on November 30th, his feast day. But you still can start now! If the official novena seems too cumbersome a task for you, that’s ok! Pray to St. Andrew and ask him to bring you to Christ anyway! He won’t refuse!
- Foster a devotion to Divino Niño // The Divine Infant. This was one of Mother Angelica’s greatest devotions and has brought with it multiple miracles. In my own life, the idea of inviting an infant into my heart is much more inviting and much less threatening than the omnipotent God of the Universe.
- Pray the Sacred Heart Novena // Not surprisingly, this novena is meant to draw you into union with the Sacred Heart. What better way to prepare for Christ’s Coming in your heart could there be?
- Make a Spiritual Communion // If you are unable to make it to daily Mass, say the prayer of Spiritual Communion every day leading up to Christmas. The words of the prayer literally invite Jesus into your heart. The best part is that you can say this prayer as many times a day as you want, and Jesus comes every time.
Observing the Third Coming: Christ in Glory
At the end of time, Christ will come again in all His power and glory. In Matthew’s Gospel, right before the Triduum begins, Jesus preaches a sermon on the end of times. He uses three parables to teach his disciples how they should live as they wait for His return:
- the parable of the wise and foolish maidens
- the parable of the talents
- the separation of the sheep from the goats
The behavior of the maidens teaches us that we can’t put off holiness. We have to be striving to grow closer to God and ready for Christ, the Bridegroom, to return at any moment. The second parable teaches us that we can’t just sit on our hands and admire the gift of faith that God has given to us. We are meant to be busy building the Kingdom of God here on earth. Lastly, the separation of the sheep from the goats instructs us to love God by loving the people around us.
How to Live It
Below are practical ways we can do such things:
- Go to Confession // Take advantage of the opportunities afforded by your local parishes this Advent season. Make sure you have enough “oil” to light the way for others.
- Evaluate Your Gifts and Talents // Think of one way you can do something to help the Kingdom “grow” this Advent. Maybe it’s something as simple as joining the choir or baking some cookies for a fundraiser. Whether big or small, do one concrete thing using your talents to help the Kingdom grow.
- Practice the Corporal Works of Mercy // Look for ways to tangibly love others. Is there someone you could invite over for dinner? Is there a relative in a nursing home you haven’t been to visit? Can you “shelter” someone who would otherwise be alone at Christmas? Read the list, pray about it, and put it into action. Be a sheep.
The Number 3
Biblically speaking, the number 3 symbolizes wholeness or completeness. It actually appears in Scripture a total of 467 times, second only to the number 7. It represents “the fullest extent” of whatever scenario it is describing. For example, Jonah is in the belly of the whale for three days, which symbolizes a complete conversion. Similarly, Peter denies knowing Jesus three times, but then is redeemed in proclaiming his love for Christ three times (complete rejection, complete repentance). In the book of Revelation, the Lamb of God is proclaimed to be “Holy, Holy, Holy…”; in other words, perfectly perfect.
A More Complete Picture
Knowing this, it makes sense that the three comings of Jesus allow for a more “complete” picture of Him and our salvation. In fact, they actually build upon and complete each other, helping us to fully know Jesus and to be ready for His Final Coming.
The first coming is the foundation, as neither the second nor the third could happen if the Son had not stepped foot in time. Now, because He came in History, we can know Him personally and intimately in our hearts. Likewise, His coming in our hearts helps us live better lives and ultimately, long for His return. His Final Coming is the end of this world and the beginning of the next, when hopefully everyone who is reading this will enter the Kingdom. There we will know God fully.
So my sisters, I pray: may Christ be more fully present in your knowledge. May Christ be more fully present in your heart. May Christ be more fully present in your life eternal, which truly has already begun.
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Grace Bellon is a regular contributor to the BIS blog. She’s a lover of bearded men, rich coffee, cheesy puns, cuddly doggies, and Catholicism. You can find out more about her here (warned ya she liked cheesy puns).