The Three Comings of Christ
Throughout the Advent Season, we prayed, "Come, Lord Jesus." Advent is over now, which raises an important question: When is the arrival?
At first, the question may seem foolish. The position of the Advent season immediately before Christmas inclines us to immediately respond that we await the coming of Christ at Christmas; we await His birth. But how is it possible that we are waiting for something that has already happened? How can we seriously implore the Father to send His Son, when we know that He already did so 2000 years ago? So, it is pretty clear that we are not awaiting Jesus to be born in Bethlehem.
Some spiritual writers have suggested that the obvious meaning of the Advent prayers is that we are praying for the coming of Christ at the end of time, the so-called "Second Coming." We recall Christ's birth, His first coming, at Christmas, and that remembering directs our minds to the Second Coming, the coming in power and the fulfillment of all the promises. I find this helps. But, while this solution manages to come to grips with both the past and the future, in my opinion, it does not go far enough. I am stuck contemplating the mystery in another time zone, unable to partake in the event.
Listen for a moment to a curious exchange from Alice in Wonderland, between Alice and the White Queen. It begins with Queen who tells Alice she can have jam every other day. Alice replies that she does not care for any jam. From there, the exchange goes like this:
“It’s very good jam,” said the Queen. “Well, I don’t want any today, at any rate,” Alice replied. “You couldn’t have it if you did want it [today],” the Queen said. “The rule is, jam tomorrow and jam yesterday — but never jam today.” “It must come sometimes to ‘jam today,’” Alice objected. “No, it can’t,” said the Queen. “It’s jam every other day: today isn’t any other day, you know.”
The two comings of Christ view of Advent and Christmas leaves us with Christ yesterday and Christ tomorrow but never Jesus today. Fortunately, Saint Bernard of Clairveau, way back in the twelfth century, has the solution for us: "We know that there are three comings of the Lord. The third lies between the other two. It is invisible, while the other two are visible."
So, there is a first coming in the past, a third coming in the future, and a second coming in the present. The coming of Christ is not merely something of the past or something of the future. Christ's coming is now. He arrives in our world and in our own lives. In every moment, Christ is passing by. In every happening, we are offered an opportunity to discover Him. Thus, the mystery is that of Christ who appears as someone who is always behind us and in front of us, who does not cease to arrive and be still awaited.
So, if I might recall a couple other Advent words, "stay awake" and "watch" for the Lord is coming into your life now. At that point, I agree with the White Queen. Long after Christmas is over, we can still say today is not just "any other day." Every "today" is the day when the Lord is coming.
- Rev. Msgr. Michael J. Henchal