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We have one last week in Advent, and so there is still time to prepare for Jesus Christ in the best way possible: doing the acts of mercy.
Advent prepares for Christ’s three comings: The one to come at the end of time, the one 2,000 years ago at Bethlehem, the one in 2021 in our churches and our hearts.
Matthew 25 tells the story of the one at the end of time, when he will gather the nations before him and judge them by saying, “I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me” — or not.
Both those who are saved and those who are lost, will ask, “When did we see him that way?”
The answer? First, 2,000 years ago at Bethlehem, and next in 2021. Consider how Christmas reveals the Corporal Works of Mercy we are charged with completing today.
First, at Christmas, Joseph and Mary had to “Shelter the homeless and clothe the naked” Christ.
It always seems odd when, at the last Judgement Jesus starts by saying, “I was naked, and you clothed me.” Taken literally, this is perhaps the work of mercy we are least likely to do.
But if you read the story of his birth, it starts to make more sense. As Luke tells it: “And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”
The very first thing that happened to Jesus after birth was that someone saw him naked and clothed him, and saw him homeless and sheltered him.
In Advent, we are meant to see him in those who today need warm clothing and a place to stay.
Second: Jesus in the manger inspires us to “Feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty.”
It is hard to imagine a clearer way Jesus could have associated himself with the hungry and thirsty than to enter mankind as a nursing baby, who can do neither for himself.
But Jesus also became the perfect exemplar of the works of mercy: We are naked and homeless until he clothes us with our baptismal garment and welcomes us into the Church, and by being born in Bethlehem, which means the House of Bread, he points to the Eucharist that will impart his body and blood for our eternal life.
Advent is thus a time for food drives on the one hand and a time to prepare to receive him as food and drink by going to confession.
Third: The angels’ visit to the shepherds is a call to “Visit the sick and visit the imprisoned.”
Jesus was not sick, but he was a newborn, and the shepherds were not imprisoned, but they were those the types of workers who in their day were ostracized to the literal margins of society.
Christmas shows how these people are the first priority of heaven when “an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them,” and the angel told them “to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
The final week of Advent is a time to visit those who are at the margins of our society at the time of year when the lack of company is especially hard to bear: A time to visit nursing homes and prisons, in person or in gifts, cards and prayers.
Fourth: Jesus comes to help us face death.
It is remarkable how much death there is in the Christmas story.
But the good news of Christmas is the only antidote to death. In Luke, we hear about Simeon in the Temple: “it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.” After he meets Jesus, he faces death resolutely, saying: “Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace.”
Ultimately the “tidings of comfort and joy” that the angels bring the world is this: Jesus Christ, born at Bethlehem will also become “the firstborn from the dead.”
And Advent is, above all, a time to share the only hope the world knows with those in sorrow and with souls in Purgatory: By inviting people to know and love Jesus, and by praying for those who are dead.
So hurry! We only have a week to go.