This reflection was written by Fr Brendan Mark Gatt, who is a Judicial Vicar (Adjunct) at The Metropolitan Tribunal of Malta.
Whichever way you look at it, the basic message of Advent will always be the same one: “Wait!” Very often, as we wait for Christmas we’re like children on a long trip in the car going, “Are we there yet? Are we there yet?” We seem to have lost the ability to wait with patience. As soon as Advent comes around, up go the Christmas decorations, out come the Christmassy songs and we are overtaken by Christmas-present-fever. It shouldn’t be this way, and it needn’t be.
Perhaps in order to live Advent in a richer manner, we can use this time to grow in the awareness that our whole life is an Advent. Our whole life is a period of waiting for our final and definitive encounter with Our Heavenly Father. Many people view this moment in their lives with a mixture of fear and doubt. Even in the Gospels, we find texts which are very apocalyptic in tone, texts in which Jesus speaks to us of fearsome events throughout creation. And thus many people over the years have come to associate their final meeting with God as something terrifying. Yet in his Encyclical Letter Spe Salvi, Pope Benedict has some very refreshing and reassuring words:
The image of the Last Judgement is not primarily an image of terror, but an image of hope; for us it may even be the decisive image of hope. Is it not also a frightening image? I would say: it is an image that evokes responsibility, an image, therefore, of that fear of which Saint Hilary spoke when he said that all our fear has its place in love. God is justice and creates justice. This is our consolation and our hope. And in his justice there is also grace. This we know by turning our gaze to the crucified and risen Christ.
The Church’s message is clear: yes, there is an element of judgement which takes place in our final meeting with God. It is the judgement in which our decisions here on earth (for God or against Him) become definitive. That same God who doesn’t force you to love Him here on earth won’t force you to spend eternity with Him! And therefore in this life we have time to prepare. We have the luxury of examining our choices and seeing whether they bring us closer to God or drag us away from Him. This is the whole sense of our waiting. It is a privileged moment to prepare for our final encounter. We can choose whether the end of our lives is going to be a moment of terror or joy. Whether it is a moment of fear and condemnation, or a moment in which we enter a state of peace and happiness, safe in our Father’s embrace.