Pope Benedict's Advent Vesper Homily
Dear brothers and sisters,
With this evening celebration we enter the liturgical time of Advent. In the biblical reading we just heard, taken from the First Letter to the Thessalonians, the Apostle Paul invites us to prepare for the "coming of our Lord Jesus Christ" (5:23), keeping ourselves irreproachable, with the grace of God. Paul uses, in fact, the word "coming," in Latin adventus, from whence comes the term Advent.
Let us reflect briefly on the meaning of this word, which can be translated as "presence," "arrival," "coming." In the language of the ancient world it was a technical term used to indicate the arrival of a functionary or the visit of a king or emperor to a province. But it could also indicate the coming of the divinity, which goes out of concealment to manifest itself with power, or which is celebrated as present in worship. Christians adopted the word "advent" to express their relationship with Jesus Christ: Jesus is King, who has entered into this poor "province" called earth to visit everyone; he brings to participate in his advent those who believe in him, all those who believe in his presence in the liturgical assembly. With the word adventus an attempt was made essentially to say: God is here, he has not withdrawn from the world, he has not left us alone. Although we cannot see or touch him, as is the case with tangible realities, he is here and comes to visit us in multiple ways.
The meaning of the expression "advent" includes therefore also that of visitatio, which means simply and properly "visit"; in this case it is a visit of God: He enters my life and wants to address me. We all experience in daily life having little time for the Lord and little time for ourselves. We end up by being absorbed in "doing." Is it not true that often activity possesses us, that society with its many interests monopolizes our attention? Is it not true that we dedicate much time to amusements and leisure of different kinds? Sometimes things "trap" us.
Advent, this intense liturgical time that we are beginning, invites us to pause in silence to grasp a presence. It is an invitation to understand that every event of the day is a gesture that God directs to us, sign of the care he has for each one of us. How many times God makes us perceive something of his love! To have, so to speak, an "interior diary" of this love would be a beautiful and salutary task for our life! Advent invites and stimulates us to contemplate the Lord who is present. Should not the certainty of his presence help us to see the world with different eyes? Should it not help us to see our whole existence as a "visit," as a way in which he can come to us and be close to us, in each situation?
Another essential element of Advent is expectation, expectation that at the same time is hope. Advent drives us to understand the meaning of time and history as "kairos," as a favorable occasion for our salvation. Jesus illustrated this mysterious reality in many parables: in the account of the servants invited to await the return of their master; in the parable of the virgins who await the bridegroom; or in those of the sowing and harvesting. Man, in his life, is in constant waiting: When he is a child he wants to grow, as an adult he tends to his realization and success, growing in age, he aspires to his deserved rest. However the time comes in which he discovers that he has waited too little if, beyond his profession or social position, he has no choice but to wait. Hope marks the path of humanity, but for Christians it is animated by a certainty: The Lord is present in the course of our life, he accompanies us and one day he will also dry our tears. In a not too distant day, everything will find its fulfillment in the Kingdom of God, Kingdom of justice and peace.
However, there are very different ways of waiting. If time is not filled by a present gifted with meaning, the waiting runs the risk of becoming unbearable; if something is expected, but at this moment there is nothing, namely, if the present is empty, every instant that passes seems exaggeratedly long, and the waiting is transformed into a weight that is too heavy because the future is totally uncertain. When, instead, time is gifted with meaning and we perceive in every instant something specific and valuable, then the joy of waiting makes the present more precious.
Dear brothers and sisters, let us live the present intensely, when we already have the gifts of the Lord, let us live it projected to the future, a future full of hope. The Christian Advent thus becomes an occasion to reawaken in ourselves the true meaning of waiting, returning to the heart of our faith which is the mystery of Christ, the Messiah awaited for long centuries and born in the poverty of Bethlehem. Coming among us, he has brought us and continues to offer us the gift of his love and of his salvation. Present among us, he speaks to us in many ways: in sacred Scripture, in the liturgical year, in the saints, in the events of daily life, in the whole of creation, which changes in aspect if he is behind it or if it is obfuscated by the mist of an uncertain origin and an uncertain future. In turn, we can speak to him, present to him the sufferings that afflict us, impatience, the questions that spring from the heart. We are certain that he always hears us! And if Jesus is present, there is no time deprived of meaning and void. If he is present, we can continue to wait also when others can no longer give us their support, even when the present is exhausting.
Dear friends, Advent is the time of the presence and the expectation of the eternal. Precisely for this reason it is, in a particular way, the time of joy, of an internalized joy, that no suffering can erase. Joy because of the fact that God became a child. This joy, invisibly present in us, encourages us to walk with confidence. Model and support of this profound joy is the Virgin Mary, through whom the Child Jesus has been given to us. May she, faithful disciple of her Son, obtain for us the grace to live this liturgical time vigilant and diligent in waiting. Amen.