The explanation for humans’ sense of expectation is that we have an imagination. Unlike animals guided by instinct, we can imagine past and future.
Advent is the time of expectation. Since Christ is not limited by time — He can be born again in our lives at every Christmas.
Expectation requires thinking about the four most important matters of existence: death, judgment, heaven and hell. These are the primary mysteries that arrest the attention of minds awake, more compelling than holiday shopping and attempts at partying before Christmas begins.
To look at death at the start of Advent is what we do on a small scale when we look at the end of anything, whether it be the end of the day or the end of some project we have been working on, or even the end of a movie or a song.
The question is: Does the end of life have a purpose?
Along with the sense of expectation is the intuition that what is expected is more vital than what we now have.
C.S. Lewis answered that in a typically lucid way: “It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: It would be a jolly sight harder for a bird to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.”
Along with the sense of expectation is the intuition that what is expected is more vital than what we now have. On the day after Christmas in 1941, Winston Churchill stood before the joint houses of Congress and spoke of “… my life, which is already long, and has not been entirely uneventful.” Then a full 24 years later, his dying words were: “I’m bored with it all.” That was really wonderful because, though skeptical about the Gospel, he knew that things as they are, are not enough. He was a bit like Benjamin Franklin who, while far from an orthodox Christian, playfully wrote his own epitaph as a printer, comparing himself to a worn old book: “For it will, as he believ’d, appear once more, In a new and more perfect Edition, Corrected and amended, By the Author.”
There is a worthy movement now to rebuild the lamented old Pennsylvania Station, constructed on the site of our original church. That church was destroyed in 1963, in the arrogant period when many classical churches were wrecked by misguided liturgical experts who shared the modern contempt for anything old. The restoration of the old station would cost about $3.5 billion, an immense amount but small change compared to the $20 billion of innocuous glass boxes rising around us in the Hudson Yards development.
Jesus spoke of rebuilding the Herodian Temple in three days (John 2:19). That was at the price of his own blood, for he was speaking of his body. He did raise it. And He can do the same for us.
Fr. George William Rutler is a Catholic priest and the pastor of the Church of St. Michael in Manhattan. This article from his parish church bulletin is used by permission.