Today’s Advent Reading:
USCCB — December 16th
Nearing the end of another semester of college, and the end of another year, it is certainly a time for rejoicing. We have “crossed the finish line” so to speak. Many hardships, many trials lay behind us. Even on a daily basis, we might manage to write just a page on our paper due the next day, and “treat ourselves” with a scroll through Facebook. Another finish line. Sometimes, these individual accomplishments seem isolated, lacking any unity or cohesion. It has become easy to go from task to task, race to race, without asking why. Even as a Christian, life occasionally looks to be nothing more than these mini finish lines, these small feats that seem momentous for a bit, but whose significance fades over time.
In today’s Gospel, as Peter, James, and John return with Jesus from their miraculous meeting with the shining figures of Moses and Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration, they ask Jesus about the prophesies concerning the second coming of Elijah. Jesus responds, “Elijah does come, and he will restore all things,” then reverses course on them completely, “But I tell you Elijah has already come…” (Matthew 17:11-12).
Through this strange answer, we can see that Jesus delineates two distinct “comings” which we would be wise to reflect on. The first one was in the form of John the Baptist, to presage Jesus’ own ministry. For the second one, we know neither the day nor the hour, but we get an idea of its incredible consequences from the Book of Sirach. Written centuries before Jesus walked the earth, it speaks of that day when the next Elijah will come, “to put an end to wrath before the day of the Lord, to turn back the hearts of fathers toward their sons” (Sirach 48:10). This is certainly a day to look forward to, and one that has not reached its fulfillment yet.
These two comings of Elijah correspond to the two Advents that we are simultaneously awaiting in this season. We are likewise able to be grateful for the wondrous ramifications of the first coming of Christ, while longing mournfully for the second. This attitude of rejoicing in the past and looking expectantly towards the future embodies perfectly the spirit of Advent. Accordingly, our race is not yet over. There is training left to be done. Jesus has not yet returned again to reconcile Creation once and for all.
Sometimes, we just go from one race to another, not acknowledging that there are eternal stakes at play, that there is a bigger plan in motion. We look back at the salvation that Jesus worked for us on the cross, satisfied at our “efforts,” not realizing that we are only halfway there. There is still plenty more to be accomplished for God’s Kingdom before He comes again in judgment. Advent is a perfect season to be asking ourselves, “I may have crossed one finish line with God’s help, but have I seriously neglected that final finish line?”
Unless we make this second coming imminent in our minds by reflecting on it regularly, then we have no more reason to hope than Sisyphus of Greek mythology, condemned to roll a boulder up the same hill every day. Each milestone we reach is individually worthless, except as it leads to our spiritual destiny. The second Advent gives our lives just as much direction as the first one has. Thus, we must be constantly evaluating our daily and yearly finish lines in light of the ultimate one. Christmas vacation is an excellent time to meditate on that.
This message is not intended to be sobering alone—it is also a message of hope. We are not fated to meaninglessness as Sisyphus was. Ultimately, Jesus has already accomplished all the things described in Sirach through his death. Living in the atonement of the cross, and with the help of His Spirit, we can begin the act of reconciliation between families, friends, and enemies that will be completed on the last day. And for that, we should rejoice, breathe out, and rest in God’s peace.
Because Jesus suffered the greatest humiliation to come to earth in the form of a man, we are already guaranteed to finish the race of life. We need not be anxious over our standing with Him. This certainty gives us all the more freedom to run with excellence and joy, driven by God’s grace to make an eternal difference for the Kingdom of Heaven. Advent is the time to train our minds for the next sprint, framing them in the manner of the prophets of old to await the coming of the Messiah. As the author of Hebrews writes, “let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (12:1). Remember, we are not running just any race, but the final one, the one leading to eternal life.
Bryce McDonald ’21 is a freshman in Stoughton Hall.