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Advent has now begun, and for us students that means that the Day of Judgment is quickly approaching. Of course, by “Day of Judgment” I mean Finals Weeks in mid-December, when all of our studies for the semester are summed up in term papers and final exams, and our professors “judge” our learning for the semester by assigning grades. It is a time of busyness and of stress, of late nights, and those disconcerting moments when we think, “can I get it all done in time?
I suppose that, in general, the several weeks before Christmas are that way for many others as well: gift-purchasing, holiday party-planning, travelling arrangements, and general preparations for the Christmas season tend to fill our time and generate a bit of stress. And Christmas day itself becomes a sort of “Judgment Day”, when the results of all of our prior efforts are revealed – and we hope that our work will not have been in vain!
While all of this busyness and stress can indeed seem to take away from the season of Advent, there is, at least, one thing fitting in all of this: Advent is supposed to be a time of anticipation and preparation; but it is a preparation for the coming of Christ – at Bethlehem and at the end of time. Thus, at the very least, our preparations for our own “judgment days” – whether that be the last due date for a research paper, the day of the final exam, or Christmas day itself – can serve as a reminder for us that something “big” is indeed coming, and we ought to be prepared.
But how are we to prepare for the real “Final Exam” – that anticipated coming of Christ, whom we believe “will come to judge the living and the dead” (Apostle’s Creed)? Not indeed by sheer busyness, nor by worry or stress. Instead, I think one important way to prepare is made clear when we notice that the New Testament Greek word for Christ’s coming – παρουσία (“parousia”) – also simply means “presence”: we are called to prepare for Christ’s presence in our midst. And yet, his presence is not simply a future reality: “I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Matt 28:20). That is, Christ’s “coming”, or presence, has already begun in our midst; we must, therefore, acknowledge and respond to Christ’s presence now if we want to be ready for His presence in the future.
As religious, we are reminded of this every morning, during Matins, when we pray Psalm 95, which exhorts us: “If today you here his voice, harden not your hearts” (Ps 95:7b-8; cf. Heb 3:7-4:14). That is, “Judgment Day” begins today; Christ’s presence is before us, now – in his Church, his Sacraments, his Word, his servants, and his poor. Do we see him? Do we hear him? Are we watching? Listening?
This advent, then, may our other preparations remind us to prepare for the presence of Christ. Let us keep watch and adore his Presence in our midst, and let us today listen to and heed his voice in his Word, his Church, and in our conscience. Let us allow Him to call us, to change us, to make us holy. And, then, indeed, the Day of Judgment will not be a day of woe or of stress for us, but a day of fulfillment and of completion – of dwelling in Christ’s Glorious Presence.