I’m a ‘word’ guy…and I’ve discovered that it’s either a blessing or a curse, the way my mind works.
To wit: I enjoy finding layers of meaning in a particular concept or phrase. I’m always reading between the lines…or peering into the ‘gray’ spaces…a habit that can be frustrating for those around me who prefer the certitude of ‘black and white.’
Which is probably why I was immediately drawn to the headline of a particular blog post over the weekend. Franciscan Friar Dan Horan kicked off the new church year with an essay entitled, ‘The Advent or the Invention of Christ?’
There’s lots of thought-provoking word-play in the article, which is built on Fr. Horan’s semi-serious suggestion that Christians ought to consider renaming this holy season. ‘Advent’ is not a great choice, he says, because…
The word adventus was used in the Roman Empire when the emperor was officially welcomed into the city, usually after a military conquest or victory (typically when the Emperor would return to Rome after some military success). The emperor’s staff would send an envoy in advance and let the city, village, or town know that the victorious ruler was coming or would arrive soon — the “head’s up” was used to signal the loyal citizens to ready the welcome of the emperor, roll out the proverbial red carpet, and greet the leader appropriately with ceremony and pomp.
‘Our’ Advent, of course, encourages us to prepare our hearts and minds for a different kind of king: a messiah who comes, not as a conquering hero, but as a helpless infant.
I thought about that fundamental truth as I reflected on the gospel we heard at Mass today. Matthew tells us about the Roman centurion who seeks Jesus’ help for his paralyzed slave. In making the request, the centurion also makes a profession of faith:
‘Only say the word, [Jesus], and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man subject to authority, with soldiers subject to me. And I say to one, “Go”, and he goes; and to another, “Come here” and he comes.’
Jesus calls the centurion’s statement ‘amazing’ – and indeed, it is: For how is it that the powerful centurion came to see someone of authority in this lowly one, the itinerant preacher? How did he manage to clearly see the Lord, who came to earth and dwelt among us so well disguised?
And more to the point, for our own journey of faith this Advent season: Where do we tend to look for Christ? How do we expect him to appear? Are we ready to be surprised?
Do we really want him to…come again?