Advent is my favorite season.
Each year I find myself so grateful that the Church knows just what I need in order to prepare my heart for Christ’s coming. This time of waiting is such a gift that I look forward to it every year—I even long for it! As the liturgical calendar turns to Advent, I am filled with expectant faith, hope, and joy. When we celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King the Sunday before Advent begins, I am ignited, waiting, yearning. I am filled with the eager anticipation of Emmanuel, which comes from the Hebrew Imanu'el and means “God With Us.”
I have always felt a special attachment to this name for Jesus. Just saying it brings me such great joy and gratitude that I repeat it to myself and others frequently, not just in this season but throughout the year. God is near! God With Us! Emmanuel!
For many years now, I have used this as a greeting or a closing when speaking or writing to friends, especially in the Advent and Christmas seasons. Emmanuel! God With Us! What an incredible gift and mystery.
St. Bernard of Clairvaux wrote that in Advent, we prepare for the celebration of the three comings of Christ: the birth of Our Lord in the flesh in Bethlehem, the continued coming of Christ into our hearts and minds (particularly in the Eucharist), and the Second Coming, when Our Lord will arrive in great glory at the end of days.
He came. He lived among us. He died for us, that He might live within us, and we might have life in Him. He will also return for us. We can see God With Us in each of these “comings.”
The First Coming: The Incarnation of Our Lord
The anticipation of Christmas is the first God With Us of the Advent season. The quiet arrival of Jesus in the Incarnation ushers in such great joy. Two thousand years ago, Our Lord was born into poverty and obscurity, a helpless babe in a dirty stable, to poor, unknown parents who eventually became refugees. No one knew him except those very few to whom He was revealed. His own people were too busy to care, too unaware to notice, too self-centered to pause and contemplate whether this could be the Messiah. Yet there He was, Emmanuel. God With Us. The revelation of things hidden, and things to come.
His Continued Coming Into Our Hearts and Minds, Throughout Our Lives
In this special season we also pause within the context of our daily lives to contemplate a great gift, so profound and so sublime: the second God With Us. Every moment of every day, He is with us. We are never alone. We have a home in the Heart of Christ. He so desires to make His home in our hearts, and this is surely the greatest gift known to man. We await a person—a presence that will, by God’s grace, become a lifelong encounter with the Lover of Our Souls.
How disappointing it is each year—when I begin to prepare my heart in the Advent season—to realize that I have loved Him very much, but not always very well.
Yet despite my flaws and failures, I am filled with hope and gratitude for this time of renewal, to recommit to the life I want to live in Christ. I am not discouraged by my inadequacy. I am encouraged by His incredible love for me. I recommit to loving Him in the way He deserves to be loved, to know Him and make Him known in the world. The second God With Us is a reminder of this incredible mystery of God: that He will bring the revelation of things hidden and things to come into my own life, just as He brought it into the world 2,000 years ago.
The Second Coming, At the End of Time
We have received a great gift in the birth of Christ. We live a great privilege in our life in Christ. We await a third God With Us in the Second Coming, when Our Lord arrives again in glory at the end of days. He will come again, returning to earth to fulfill yet another prophecy. This too will be the revelation of things hidden, and things to come. Not only will He be God With Us, but He will take us to Himself. I imagine that we will see God With Us then, in ways we never fully understood before.
I believe one of the greatest of these will be what Jesus tells us in Matthew 25:35-45:
“Amen, I say to you, that whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.”
When I hear this part of Matthew’s gospel, a literal interpretation always seems to take root in my heart and mind. I think about clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, visiting the sick and imprisoned. These acts of love are good and holy. They allow others to experience God With Us as He enters their lives through us. These acts also allow us to encounter God With Us in a person, a presence and a love beyond all understanding.
There are so many people in the world who are suffering secretly in ways we cannot imagine. They are grieving, isolated, afraid, misunderstood, despairing, lonely, and broken. Most of them do not hold signs in hand to tell us their woes. They hold hidden things, yet to be revealed.
Because our own sins and wounds estrange us from God, they also veil our eyes to everyday sufferings all around us. In our own blindness and brokenness, we simply fail to see the sufferings of most of our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Everyone we meet is made in the image and likeness of God, with an inherent dignity, precious to God the Father. Yet we stumble about in our own darkness, unable to see or devote ourselves to their needs. In these moments, our selfishness, the distractions of the world, and our own woundedness prevent us from truly bringing Christ to others.
Where is God With Us for those precious souls?
He is with US.
Let’s feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty and clothe the naked, wherever they may be, and in whatever form their sufferings may take. Clothing someone’s nakedness could be as simple as hugging them and showing them affection when they feel unloved. Visiting the imprisoned may be nothing more than visiting a shut-in neighbor who cannot leave home. Giving drink to the thirsty may be listening to someone compassionately and helping them receive what they are longing for. Jesus tells us that each of these children of God the Father are also God With Us, in disguise. They are the Hidden Christ. Whatsoever we do for the least of these brothers and sisters we do for the Lord Himself.
When He comes again, He will lift the veil. We will see clearly how our love for others was so vital in bringing about God’s kingdom and in ensuring God With Us for all of His children. We will know the value and purpose of our sufferings. We will know then how much our love was needed by so many souls in this wounded world. Only then will we truly understand what was hidden, yet to be revealed. God With Us.
God With Us is His love, as He sent His only Son to save us from our sins. Jesus is the revelation of that love, having come into the world as a helpless, tiny babe.
God With Us is His Promise. He has promised us eternal life in Christ; he has promised never to leave or forsake us; He has promised that no matter what His children suffer here on earth, it will all work for the good of those who love Him.
God With Us is the Person, the Presence, and the Gift of the Holy Spirit sent to live in our hearts through Baptism and Confirmation, leading us to heaven. It is the Most Holy Trinity, residing within each of us.
God With Us is the Eucharist, given to us that we might have Him intimately and physically made manifest, that we might be healed, strengthened, and transformed. In His broken flesh He hides Himself for us.
God With Us is the Pain, Need, and Suffering of Our Brothers and Sisters, where He also hides Himself, waiting for us to bring them His healing touch and infinite love.
For Our Reflection This Advent Season
Let’s rejoice in His presence as we enter into the Advent season. Let’s welcome the Son of God together, with hope, gratitude and a desire to love Him better. As we reflect on the majesty of the Incarnation, let’s also remember what is truly important for us as followers of Christ: to bring Him to others, that they might experience Him and be consoled. In this way we can restore our friendship and union with God and with one another.
This Advent, let’s pray for the grace to discern how we can best prepare for the Coming of Christ: in the Flesh, in our hearts, and at the end of time.
As for me, I enter this holy season with the excitement, awe, and joy that I experience every year. It is a response that can only come from experiencing the incredible mercy and love of Emmanuel, God With Us.
Have you experienced the incredible presence of Christ in your daily life?
Will you join us in praying for a deeper conversion of heart this Advent?
Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!