Light of Lights! All gloom dispelling,
Thou didst come to make thy dwelling
Here within our world of sight.
Lord, in pity and in power,
Thou didst in our darkest hour
Rend the clouds and show thy might.
Praise to Thee in earth and heaven
Now and evermore be given,
Christ, who art our sun and shield.
Lord, for us thy life thou gavest,
Those who trust in thee thou savest,
All thy mercy stands revealed.
-St. Thomas Aquinas
It’s interesting, Karl Rahner and others have noted, that our chief prayer during Advent is a variation on, “Come Lord Jesus!”. It is a good idea to consider what we are asking when we pray these words.
Advent looks forward to the coming of Christ in two ways. First of all, we await/look forward to his birth in human history. We anticipate and look forward to the event of the Incarnation – the simple but profound truth of our faith that in Christ, God has taken on flesh to share fully in our humanity. Second, we look for him to come again in glory and establish God’s reign of justice and peace on the earth. Every time we profess our faith in the words of the Nicene Creed, we proclaim that we wait for him to come in glory, “and his kingdom will have no end.”
So when we pray, “Come Lord Jesus!”, we can look to that first sense of Advent expectation – the coming of Christ in history, and we can answer that, pretty definitively, this has happened. He has come into history in an unrepeatable, unique and very human way. When we think about the second meaning of Advent preparation and longing, what we are saying is that we want him to return in glory, to establish his reign on earth. That glorious end-time, while many have tried to predict it throughout history, is way beyond being knowable by the likes of us. Jesus tells us that the Father alone knows when this is going to take place (see Mark 13:32 for example) and so it’s not our job to worry about when it will take place. We are assured that we’ll know about it as it’s unfolding.
In the meantime, praying “Come Lord Jesus!” means that we want Him here now, in the midst of us. Here’s the thing: he is here. He has given us the gift of the Holy Spirit and has promised us that when we gather in His name, proclaim the good news of Christ in His name, seek to serve Him by serving the hungry, thirsty, the outcast, the orphan, the stranger and the prisoner… we shall encounter Him. Every time.
Maybe, then, a better prayer would be, “Lord Jesus, help us come to you!”. Let’s make that our Advent expression of longing, waiting, joyful hope and expectation – may we at last come to the One who was, who is, and who is to come.