In the Office of Readings for the First Sunday of Advent, St. Cyril of Jerusalem reminds us of the "twofold coming of Christ" - the first being at His incarnation, which we celebrate at Christmas, and the second being on the great and terrible day of judgment, a day known only to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. This helps us to see how the Church gives us the season of Advent in order to prepare Her children both for the liturgical celebration of Christ's birth and for the day when Christ will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.
We see this emphasis on preparation in the following antiphon and Scripture readings in today's Office:
Antiphon | Office of Readings
"Let us cleanse our hearts for the coming of our great King, the we may be ready to welcome him; he is coming and will not delay."
Reading | Evening Prayer I
"May the God of peace make you perfect in holiness. May he preserve you whole and entire, spirit, soul, and body, irreproachable at the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls us is trustworthy, therefore he will do it." (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24)
Reading | Morning Prayer
"It is now the hour for you to wake from sleep, for our salvation is closer than when we first accepted the faith. The night is far spent; the day draws near. Let us cast off deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light." (Romans 13:11-12)
As we begin yet another liturgical year, may our hearts be inflamed with greater love and devotion at the thought of Christ's coming at Christmas. At the same time, may we also take heed of the call to prepare our souls for the day of the Lord's judgment.
From its beginnings in or around the fifth century, Advent has always been a season of penance - a season set apart for prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. While the Church no longer sets before us particular laws or requirements, let us prayerfully discern how we might devote ourselves during Advent to perfecting our souls in holiness, to cleansing our hearts for the coming of our great King, and to casting off deeds of darkness so that we may be fit with the armor of light. In this way, we will prepare ourselves both for a worthy celebration of Christmas and for the final Advent of God's kingdom when all things will be made new.