Wake up and get ready for the (second) coming of the Lord

You have probably heard many times that the season of Advent is a time of preparation for the two “comings” of Jesus: His coming as a child at Christmas and His Second Coming in glory at the end of time. 

Although we all know that there is an ongoing controversy about the Christian celebration of Christmas vs. the secular “holiday” celebration, I do not think it is this coming of Jesus that suffers from the worst neglect, but rather His Second Coming. And so, on this First Sunday of Advent, it is good for us to look forward to both of Jesus’ “comings,” but to place the emphasis on His Second Coming in glory. There will be plenty of time later to place the greater emphasis on Christmas.

Now, the Second Coming of Jesus does not suffer neglect because Catholics deny the truth of it. In fact, we profess that we believe in it every Sunday at Mass: In the Profession of Faith, we say that Jesus, “will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,” and in the Memorial Acclamation we sing, “We proclaim your death, O Lord, and profess your resurrection, until you come again” (emphasis added).

We say these words all the time, yet do we really believe them? Of course, we believe them in one sense, but do we believe them the way we ought to, at the core of our being? And do we believe that Jesus’ Second Coming really makes a difference — not just in the lives of those who happen to be there at the time — but in all of our lives?

Scripture says that Jesus is coming again, the Church says Jesus is coming again, and all of us say over and over that Jesus is coming again. But we need to believe it and to let this truth penetrate into our hearts and take root there, so that it will make a real difference in our lives.

Scripture says that Jesus is coming again, the Church says Jesus is coming again, and all of us say over and over that Jesus is coming again. But we need to believe it and to let this truth penetrate into our hearts and take root there, so that it will make a real difference in our lives.

But it is easy to say that something should make a difference in our lives. It is another thing to realize why it makes a difference. First, we should acknowledge that anything the Son of God does makes a difference. When it comes to God, there is no room for a “What’s that got to do with me?” attitude. And Jesus’ Second Coming, in particular, is of extreme importance to us, because it is the certain and definitive end of human history.

Just as each of our earthly lives will someday end, so too will all of human history end at the moment when the Son of Man comes again in glory. Just as we have a certain amount of time on this earth and no more, so too human history will not last forever. And just as our earthly lives — in their countless large and small moments — all point to something greater, have the purpose of working out our salvation, so too human history, with all of its glories and tragedies, really only has meaning because it points to something greater.

In other words, history is not pointless. Individually and all together, we are called to live our lives not by looking only at the ground below but even more at the road ahead, at the horizon, realizing that we are headed somewhere! And if we stay on the right road, we can be sure we are headed somewhere infinitely better than we are now.

This is not like the movies, where we have to wait and see whether the good guys are going to win the day. Jesus has already won the victory, and the purpose of our lives is to share in that victory forever.

Jesus’ Second Coming is certain, and He is certain to come in glory, not in defeat. Jesus wants us to share in His glory, not because we are so great, but because He loves us. And so we need to ask ourselves: Am I responding like someone loved by the Son of God, like someone who has an opportunity to share in the glory of God?

In this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus gives us part of what our response needs to be, when He commands His disciples to “Stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come.” So we have to be awake, inside, in our minds and our souls. Our need to be awake and ready is a very important one, and one that is especially difficult today.

We live in a time when we are very busy on the outside, but are becoming more and more deadened on the inside. We are bombarded with images, music, and all kinds of noise, as well as entertainment and information overload. And many of us are being lulled by all of these distractions into a kind of spiritual sleep.

There was a popular rock song in the early 2000s called “Bring Me to Life” by the band Evanescence. The song was very popular for years, and it tells us something about the spiritual sleep to which I just referred. I think it speaks especially to the spiritual state of many of our young people. Here are a few of the lyrics:

Without a soul, My spirit’s sleeping somewhere cold, Until you find it there and lead it back Home. Wake me up inside. Wake me up inside. Call my name and save me from the dark. Bid my blood to run. Before I come undone. Save me from the nothing I’ve become.

I do not know the background story of this song, but whatever the writer meant, these lyrics are pretty disturbing, especially if they accurately represent what many people are experiencing. I suspect the song very accurately describes what many of our young people feel like — that there is really no point to life, that life may or may not be a “good” thing depending on how many “good” experiences you can rack up, but that in the end this life really does not point to anything greater than itself. And this kind of thinking will inevitably lead to despair, because without God, without the salvation Jesus won for us, without the Second Coming and the promise of eternal life in heaven for those who believe in Jesus, this life does not really amount to very much at all.

And so, if people are feeling dead inside, then to some extent we have failed in our duty to proclaim the Gospel. And perhaps we should be glad that Jesus has not come yet. That He is giving us at least a little more time, another opportunity.

Maybe Jesus’ delay is a gift to us, but if it is then it is a gift that comes with a serious responsibility: to be truly awake and ready. To get more serious than ever about our faith and to passionately share our faith with others. To pray, to receive the sacraments — especially the sacraments of reconciliation and the Eucharist. To read Scripture and the Catechism, to perform works of charity. And in all these things to get to know Jesus personally, so that we can effectively and persuasively share with others the truth about Jesus, the difference it makes for our lives, and the difference it will make for them if they will just turn to Him and ask for His mercy.

When we do these things, this Advent and always, the Holy Spirit is going to set us on fire, giving us and those around us new life. The Holy Spirit will wake us up and give us the strength to remain vigilant, to endure whatever difficulties come our way, and to meet Jesus at the end of our lives and at the end of the world.

If we take this message seriously and really change our lives and help others to change, we will be truly following the command of Jesus to His disciples: “stay awake … be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.”

Fr. Charles Fox is a priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit currently assigned to the theology faculty of Sacred Heart Major Seminary. He is also a weekend associate pastor at St. Therese of Lisieux Parish in Shelby Township and chaplain and a board member of St. Paul Evangelization Institute, headquartered in Warren.