Advent’s Three Comings of Christ

Advent, this holy season in which we find ourselves beginning Dec. 2 at first vespers, is a time of waiting and expectation. Indeed, the violet which we wear and with which we adorn the chapel is not necessarily a symbol of penance (although prayerful repentance and reconciliation is a major factor in this liturgical season), but of deep longing for the coming of the Savior Christ into our life. 

In Advent, we await the three comings of Christ: first, we commemorate the entrance of God, the Word, the Second Person of the Most Blessed Trinity into human history, incarnate as a man like us in all things but sin; second, we await the glorious, triumphant re-entrance of Christ into human history, when all is all, and the time comes for the Savior, Christ the King, to come to judge the living and the dead; and third, we pray for Christ to be born each day, each moment, into our hearts, to help us grow in virtue, to see Christ, indeed to be Christ, to one another. 

The Advent Preface I of the Mass clearly reflects this understanding and in a particular way that we all pay close attention to those words as it is prayed over the next three weeks at Mass. 

The great doctor of the church, St. Bernard of Clairvaux, summarizes this, in his Advent sermon number 5, which we will pray in the Office of Readings of the Liturgy of the Hours this coming Wednesday, in the following manner: 

“In the first coming he was seen on earth, dwelling among men; he himself testifies that they saw him and hated him. In the final coming all flesh will see the salvation of our God, and they will look on him whom they pierced. The intermediate coming is a hidden one; in it only the elect see the Lord within their own selves, and they are saved.” 

Liturgically, the season of Advent itself can be seen as really being divided into two parts, the first part, up to Dec. 17, is remote preparation for the coming of Christ. The focus is on the second coming of the Lord and the key figure in this time period is the friend of the bridegroom, St. John the Baptist; from Dec. 17 onwards, a period of time marked out by the O Antiphons in vespers, we have a more proximate preparation for the coming of Christ, one which focuses especially on the historical fact of the incarnation. Our Blessed Mother, Mary, is the key figure during this time period. 

St. Bernard writes: 

“In case someone should think that what we say about this middle coming is sheer invention, listen to what our Lord himself says: If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him. There is another passage of Scripture which reads: He who fears God will do good, but something further has been said about the one who loves, that is, that he will keep God’s word. 

“Keep God’s word in this way. Let it enter into your very being, let it take possession of your desires and your whole way of life. Feed on goodness, and your soul will delight in its richness. 

“Because this coming lies between the other two, it is like a road on which we travel from the first coming to the last. In the first, Christ was our redemption; in the last, he will appear as our life; in this middle coming, he is our rest and consolation. 

“If you keep the word of God in this way, it will also keep you. The Son with the Father will come to you. The great prophet who will build the new Jerusalem will come, the one who makes all things new. This coming will fulfill what is written: As we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, we shall also bear the likeness of the heavenly man. Just as Adam’s sin spread through all mankind and took hold of all, so Christ, who created and redeemed all, will glorify all, once he takes possession of all.”