By Andrew Schaeperkoetter, Strake Jesuit College Preparatory and SJV Parishioner
We have just read from the book of Genesis and our fall. Every time we walk into a confessional we realize our own fallenness, our own need for salvation. Moreover, every day in the newspaper, we read how fallen the world is- violence, injustice, starvation, and hatred- the world seemingly in a state of rebellion against God. We realize how much the devil has come to dominate our lives and all of creation too. C.S. Lewis described the world as ‘enemy-occupied territory.’
Advent is dominated by three themes: remembrance, conversion, and joyful hope based upon the three comings of Christ. Indeed, the word Advent itself means “comings.”
First, we are remembering the anticipation of the world, waiting in darkness for a Messiah. We have just read the passage of the fall, of how humanity fell into darkness, fell into a state of rebellion against God. As Christmas falls near the winter solstice, the liturgical year forces us to live in this state of darkness in literally the darkest days of the year, with the days only becoming darker until Christ’s light finally emerges to push back the darkness on Christmas Day. We recall how the devil seems to have repeatedly prevailed over the People of Israel again and again, maintaining his domination of the world. As C.S. Lewis imagined, we put ourselves within that period of the world being enemy-occupied territory, of Nazi Europe awaiting in hope the beginning of the liberation that would come from D-Day. Christmas is that D-Day, but Advent forces us to remember those days of not yet. We walk with the Jews with their prophets, reflecting on their long-held hope for the Messiah and salvation.
This remembrance in the darkness before the coming of the Messiah helps us to reflect on our own darkness, our own need for deliverance. Advent has traditionally been considered a “little Lent,” a period of fasting and preparation, a time of repentance. This is a period of interior reflection, a discerning of what is most important in our lives, of what should take priority, “of what is of value.” The figure of John the Baptist looms particularly large in Advent, crying out, “Repent, the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” John the Baptist was a prophet, dressed in camel hair and eating locusts in the desert, living a radically counter-cultural lifestyle, whose purpose was to shake the shallow and shaky foundations of our world. John the Baptist was intent upon calling into question the false idols and kingdoms that we had built up in this world, intent on preparing the world by bringing her to her foundations so that the coming kingdom of God may arrive. The kingdom of God is nothing more than Christ himself coming as Lord and Ruler, and John the Baptist is proclaiming that when we experience conversion, Christ can come rule in our hearts. This is the middle coming of Christ, the middle Advent, the arrival of Christ into our hearts that we prepare for and make room for. Advent is a time of spiritual renewal and purification, of conversion back to the way of the Lord.
Having reflected upon the darkness in the world into which we await Christ’s breaking, both in the Old Testament and in our own lives, we look in joyful hope for the final coming of Christ, commonly called the Second Coming, the end of the world. The earliest Christians prayed earnestly for Christ to return to the earth to bring his peace and justice, and in modern times we seem to have lost much of that yearning and earnestness. We seem to have presumed in our modern technological pride, human programs and political agendas, and self-confidence in human progress that we can construct for ourselves our very own utopia, often not even including God in our planning. But the war is not won yet, the D-Day of Christmas and Christ’s Pascal Mystery have arrived but the final victory over Satan we still await. Satan still continues to assault the People of God and will continue to battle us until the end. We are still a pilgrim people waiting for Christ’s final arrival, awaiting Christ the Lord’s final victory banner, awaiting the final arrival that will definitely banish all the darkness that seems to constantly surround our lives. Thus Advent, while forcing us to acknowledge that darkness is still present, is a time that we more intentionally pray for Christ to come soon and very soon, that Christ may display His glory and definitively defeat the forces of evil in this world. Thus we wait in hope and in joy in full confidence of how great is our God.
Let us pray this Advent that we may enter into the Advent journey of the Jews as they awaited in darkness their Messiah more fully realizing our own need for a Savior, that we may undergo our own repentance to make room for Christ to rule in our hearts, and that Christ may urgently come to establish His kingdom over the entire world that His glory and love be established over all.
Andrew Schaeperkoetter is a proud native St. Louisan who has been teaching engineering, physics, and theology for the past 3 years at Strake Jesuit College Preparatory. He graduated with a B.S. and M.S. in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Kansas and Texas A&M University respectively, before earning an M.T.S. at Boston College’s School of Theology and Ministry. Andrew is also a promised member of the lay movement, the Family of the Apostles of the Interior Life, possessing the charism of building the spiritual life in himself and others. Andrew is also frequently active in St. John Vianney’s Young Adult Ministry. Most importantly, Andrew has had the most blessed vocation of being the husband of the wonderful Elizabeth Schaeperkoetter.