Incarnation Cycle

Advent: The Spirituality of and Environment for the Season (Part I)

May 09, 2007


Read Part II of this 2-part article.

The Spirituality of the Season of Advent

The word Advent is derived from the Latin phrase: Adventus Domini, meaning "the coming of the Lord."  Often, this is understood to refer to the first coming of Jesus.  Rather, Adventus Domini refers to the Coming of the Lord in the past, today, and especially at the end of time.  The season of Advent, therefore, is a season filled with anticipation, not just for the commemoration of the birth of Jesus -- the First Coming of the Lord -- but also anticipation of current, future and final manifestations.

The readings of Advent illuminate this reality beautifully.  The Gospel of Mark, which is proclaimed on the First Sunday of Advent, invites the listener to be ready.  "Be constantly on the watch!  Stay awake!  You do not know when the appointed time will come!...  Be on Guard!"  This powerful calling presents us, on the one hand, with the invitation to watchfulness and readiness and, on the other hand, it contains the awesome promise of the Parousia, or the Adventus Domini, or the Second Coming of the Lord.

A reading from Isaiah, on the Second Sunday of Advent, paints a slightly different and soothing picture of what the eschatological times will bring:  "Here comes with power the Lord God, who rules by his strong arm: Here is his reward with him, his recompense before him.  Like a shepherd he feeds his flock; in his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom and leading the ewes with care."  The fear for the Eschaton, which the First Sunday of Advent may instill is now softened with the image of a caring God.

These two complimentary texts suggest that the true spirit of Christmas lies somewhere between the joy surrounding Jesus' birth and the awe-inspiring anticipation of Christ's return.  The two always go hand in hand.  As believers, we are invited to take courage in the promise of the past and to prepare for the fulfillment of that promise in the future.  The goal, of course, is to become more and more aware of the presence of Christ today.

Thus, the Incarnation cycle, like every liturgical season and every liturgical gathering encompasses three time zones: the past, the present, and the future.  The Incarnation cycle which we celebrate in the here and now places us between the First Coming and the Second Coming.  The Incarnation cycle comprises commemoration of the past -- experience in the present -- anticipation of the future as we recall God's marvelous deeds and prepare for the fulfillment of that which God has begun with us in Jesus Christ.  The Christian who remembers the first coming and awaits the things to come, will "stay awake," will "keep watch," will "be on guard," and will be ready for that glorious time when Christ will return and bring this cosmic adventure to completion.

Because of this, the Celebration of the Incarnation Cycle should focus both on the celebration of the First Coming of our Savior with its promise of salvation, and on His Second Coming in glory, which will bring the fulfillment of that promise.  The readings, the environment, the music and the texts gradually build up to the celebrations of Christmas and Epiphany.

Johan van Parys is the Director of Liturgy and the Sacred Arts at the Basilica of St. Mary, Minneapolis, MN.


Advent: The Spirituality of and Environment for the Season (Part II)
Christmas: The Spirituality of and Environment for the Season (Part I and Part II)
Epiphany: The Spirituality of and Environment for the Solemnity (Part I and Part II)
Lectio Divina - Visio Divina
On Becoming the Paschal Mystery (Part I, Part II, Part III)
The Fundamental Virtues of Liturgical Architecture
Walking in the Footsteps of Jesus...Stations of the Cross
We are the Body of Christ

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