Advent 1 — Participating in the Two (or is it Three) Comings of Christ: Crucible of Transformation

Here is a re-post of an article I posted in 2010. It helps to continue my train of thought regarding the transformative character of seasonality. Specifically the way in which we are changed by living into the paradox of participating in both the first and second comings of Christ Jesus.

St. Aelred (1110 – 12 January 1167), was a Christian of the British Isles. “The Catholic Encyclopedia” summarizes his life, thusly:

Aelred decided to become a Cistercian monk, in the recently founded abbey of Rievaulx in Yorkshire. Soon he was appointed master of novices, and was long remembered for his extraordinary tenderness and patience towards those under his charge. In 1143 when William, Earl of Lincoln, founded a new Cistercian abbey upon his estates at Revesby in Lincolnshire, St. Aelred was sent with twelve monks to take possession of the new foundation. His stay at Revesby, where he seems to have met St. Gilbert of Sempringham, was not of long duration, for in 1146 he was elected abbot of Rievaulx. In this position the saint was not only superior of a community of 300 monks, but 4.2.7he was head of all the Cistercian abbots in England… Aelred undertook a mission to the barbarous Pictish tribes of Galloway, where their chief is said to have been so deeply moved by his exhortations that he became a monk. Throughout his last years Aelred gave an extraordinary example of heroic patience under a succession of infirmities. He was, moreover, so abstemious that he is described as being “more like a ghost than a man.” His death is generally supposed to have occurred 12 January, 1166, although there are reasons for thinking that the true year may be 1167. St. Aelred left a considerable collection of sermons, the remarkable eloquence of which has earned for him the title of the English St. Bernard.

Here is one of his sermons for the First Sunday in Advent.

The present holy season which we call Advent directs our thoughts to our Lord’s twofold coming. We have therefore a double reason for rejoicing because we are meant to derive from it a double benefit.

Advent calls to mind the two comings of our Lord: first the coming of the fairest of the sons of men and the desire of all nations, so long awaited and so fervently prayed for by all the fathers when the Son of God graciously revealed to the world his visible presence in the flesh, that is to say when he came into the world to save sinners; the other that second coming to which we look forward no less than did our fathers of old. While we await his return our hope is sure and firm, yet we also frequently remind ourselves with tears of the day when he who first came to us concealed in our flesh will come again revealed in the glory which belongs to him as Lord. Of that day the psalmist sings: God will come openly;it is the Day of Judgment when Christ will come as judge in the sight of all. Our Lord’s first coming was indeed known only to a small number of good people, but his second will be evident to good and bad alike, as is known to us by the prophet’s announcement: All flesh will see the salvation of God.

To speak more precisely, however, the day we are shortly to celebrate in memory of our Lord’s birth brings him before us as a newborn child, that is to say it more expressly signifies the day and the hour when he first came into the world, whereas the season we keep beforehand represents him to us as the longed-for Messiah and reminds us of the yearning that filled the hearts of those holy fathers of ours who lived before his coming.

How beautifully then at this season the Church provides that we should recite the words and recall the longing of those who lived before our Lord’s first advent! Nor do we commemorate that desire of theirs for a single day, but share it so to speak for a long period of time, because when something we greatly love and long for is deferred for a while it usually seems sweeter to us when it does arrive.

It is our duty then to follow the example and recall the longing of the holy fathers and so inflame our own souls with love and longing for Christ. You must understand that the reason why this season was instituted was to inspire us to remember the desire of our holy fathers for our Lord’s first coming, and through their example learn to have a great longing for the day when he will come again. We should consider how much good our Lord did us by his first coming, and how much more he will do for us by his second. This thought will help us to have a great love for that first coming of his and a great longing for his return. And if our conscience is not so perfect that we dare entertain such a desire, we ought at least to fear his second coming and by means of that fear to correct our faults, so that if perhaps we cannot help being afraid here and now, we shall at least be secure and fearless when he comes again.  St. Aelred, abbot of Rievaulx (1110 – 12 January 1167), Sermon for Advent 1rom, The Two Year Lectionary, Patristic Vigils, Readings, Advent & Christmastide, Year 1

So, if we take this whole matter to its transformative end, there are actually three comings of Christ Jesus. The “present coming” is the point where the first and second converge and have their effect. This was the contention of Pierre de Blois (c.1130-1211), an English arcchdeacon who served King Henry II and the Archbishop of Canterbury as a secretary and diplomat.

Now we are in the second advent [the third coming – fr.t], provided we are such that he can thus come to us, since he said that, if we love him, he will come to us and make his home in us (Jn 14,23).

My prayer is that you will “follow the example and recall the longing of the holy fathers,” such as St. Aelred; and that He will “mightily enflame” your soul “with love and longing for Christ” as you journey with others through the Advent season and experience the third coming of Christ.

Fr. Thomas


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