The Church’s celebration of the mystery of Christ in the liturgy is like a circle. it has no definite beginning and no recognisable end. During the closing Sundays of the liturgical year, the readings invite us to look forward to the final coming of Christ. At the start of the following liturgical year we remain with this theme. Advent is a time of waiting, but it is not a time of make-believe for we do not pretend that Jesus has not yet been born of Mary. Rather we await his final second coming at the last days, reflecting upon the period of waiting for his first coming at Bethlehem, and recognising his presence among us already in his Spirit. the passages selected for the first and second readings during Advent capture these themes.
On the First Sunday both Isaiah and the First Letter to the Corinthians express our ‘longing for the coming of the Lord’ during our period of waiting.
On the Second Sunday the gospel of Mark introduces the figure of John the Baptist by quoting from Isaiah. Our first reading is the full version of the part of the prophecy that St Mark quotes, while in the second reading we are reassured that the Lord is not being slow in coming since for God a thousand years is but a day; indeed we must remain ready since the ‘day of the Lord will come like a thief’ in the night.
The Third Sunday of Advent is known as Gaudete Sunday, the Latin for ‘Rejoice!’ Both the first and second readings express our joy at the nearness of the Lord who is to come, while the responsorial psalm is taken not from the Old Testament but from the gospel of St. Luke, being the Magnificat psalm of Mary of Nazareth.
Finally the readings of the Fourth Sunday probe the identity of the Child born of Mary, a virgin who was engaged to Joseph ‘of the House of David’. The first reading is the story of God’s promise to King David that his dynasty would be ‘established for ever’, a story that for the Christian is fulfilled in the birth of Jesus, the promised Messiah of David’s house; while in the second reading from Romans St Paul describes Jesus as the ‘revelation of a mystery kept secret by God for endless ages’.