In these closing days of Advent, what can our two recent Marian feasts teach us about preparing for Christ’s birth at Christmas?
On the occasion of celebrating Mary’s Immaculate Conception in 1979, the late St. John Paul II preached about the Lord’s three comings. In doing so, he was following in the tradition of interpreting the Advent season in its broader context. The Lord is one, but the Church has always understood that His Advents are many.
At the close of the Patristic age, for example, St. Bernard wrote about the three advents (comings) of the Lord: His visible coming in the flesh, His invisible coming before the liturgical celebration of Christmas, and His Second Coming or Parousia.
In line with this interpretative tradition, St. John Paul II also spoke about three advents of Christ: His eternal advent, His prophetic advent, and his incarnational advent. Although St. Bernard placed his three advents in a liturgical-historical context, the late Holy Father placed them in a Marian-historical context.
For St. John Paul II, Mary is uniquely present at each stage of Christ’s coming. To grasp the richness of the Holy Father’s insight and to allow it to help prepare us in these final days of our liturgical Advent, I will proceed step-by-step.
First, we will turn to what I will call John Paul II’s “Bernardine moment”, that is his three-fold interpretation of Advent. Then secondly, we will consider his “Montfortian moment”, i.e. how he reads each advent in light of Mary.
Christ’s Three Advents
While the Mellifluent Doctor began his teaching with Christ’s coming in the flesh, the Millennial Pope began with His eternal coming. Drawing inspiration from St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, John Paul II called this first advent the eternal advent. Predating time itself, it is the “coming” of Christ, in the sense of the very desire of God to establish all things in His Son. In other words, it is a coming in anticipation.
Next is the prophetic advent. This coming of Christ belongs to the Book of Genesis and subtly lies within God’s promise of “redemptive enmity” (cf. Gen 3:13-15) John Paul II sees in God’s promised enmity between the woman and the serpent—between her offspring and his—the Lord’s second Advent. It is His prophetic coming, we could say.
Finally, the third Advent is the historical conception and birth of Jesus Christ in the flesh. It is the temporal manifestation of the eternal advent and the fulfillment of the prophetic advent.
To summarize the Holy Father’s Bernardine moment retelling Christ’s triple advent, we discover: His coming in eternity, His coming in prophecy, and His coming in history.
Now, for John Paul II’s Montfortian moment, i.e. his Marian moment.
To see Mary’s presence in the eternal advent we must recall St. Paul’s words in his Letter to the Ephesians. The Apostle to the Gentiles writes,
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens, as he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before him (Eph. 1:3-4).
John Paul II sees, that above all others, Mary is the one who is “chosen in Christ”. In fact, the celebration of Mary’s Immaculate Conception is a liturgical manifestation of this eternal choice on her behalf. Her Immaculate Conception reveals that she was chosen “before the foundation of the world” so as to be made “holy and without blemish” before the prospect of being the Mother of Christ.
Mary’s place in Christ’s prophetic advent is even more evident. The Genesis protoevangelium speaks directly of her. She is the woman who stands at enmity with Satan. Hers is the heel that will crush his head. Her Son will be victorious over Satan’s offspring. This crushing victory will not take place immediately upon his conception and birth, but at the Cross, when He not only will give up His life, but will also give to Mary the fruitfulness of a new motherhood in the order of grace.
Finally, Mary is also present in Christ’s third advent. Here the Holy Father recognizes that in two ways she, in fact, is the beginning of this third advent. First, Mary is the beginning of Christ’s coming into human history by God’s choice. We already spoke about this choice earlier in relation to her Immaculate Conception. Second, she is present by a choice of her own in the Annunciation. We will return to the significance of this personal choice at the end of the post.
But Mary is not only the beginning of Jesus’ historical advent. She also continues it even after his conception. We witness this in several places in the Gospels. Mary brings Christ in her womb to Elizabeth. Mary shares Him with the shepherds and wise men in Bethlehem. Mary brings Him to the Temple. Mary brings the servants to Him at Cana, etc.
This bringing of Christ into human history and the personal lives of individuals extends beyond the Scriptures and into the life of the Church. On numerous occasions Mary has stepped onto the scene of Church history to prolong the coming of Christ. In my mind, one such moment that stands out above the rest was her presence at Tepeyac.
The Advent on Tepeyac
In December 1531, Mary not only revealed that she was Our Lady of Guadalupe, but also that she was Our Lady of Christ’s Advent. She did this in two ways.
First, she revealed herself as Mary, the Mother of the true God. Her identity and her presence on Tepeyac were relative to Him.
I am the perfect ever Virgin Holy Mary, I have the honor and the joy of being Mother of the true God for whom we all live.
Second, she made it clear that her mission was not about her, but about her Son, whom she wanted to give to the people of the American continent.
Know for sure that I very much want, very much desire my sacred little house to be built her, where I will show Him, where I will exalt Him, manifesting Him, I will offer Him to the people, He who is my Love-Person, He who is my merciful gaze, He who is my aid, He who is my salvation.
Her words spoken on Tepeyac take us back to the words she spoke at Nazareth. At Nazareth she had a choice to make. The ineffable grace that prepared her to be the Mother of Christ was ready to blossom and bear fruit. Only one thing was lacking: her free “yes”.
Staking our Life on Christ with Mary
To use the Pauline terminology, Mary’s was predestined to be the Mother of Christ. But this predestination did not erase her freedom. Although the mystery of her Immaculate Conception and her vocation to Divine motherhood were eternally linked together by God’s Providence, they still needed to be historically and existentially linked by Mary’s freedom, i.e., by her willingness and choice to ground herself in Jesus Christ.
If it was on account of Him that she was preserved from Original Sin and if it was for Him that she was prepared to be a mother, then it would be through Him, with Him, and in Him that she would stake the course of her life.
The course of Advent has brought us to our final week of preparation for Christmas. We can add an extra Marian element to this special week by learning from Mary’s example and her presence at every stage of Christ’s coming into the world. We can especially reflect this week on how well we are staking our lives on Him.
Seize the rest of Advent and make it all Hers!
Fr. Christopher Etheridge, IVE
 Nican Mopohu en nahuatl, español e inglés, ed. Eduardo Chavez, (Mexico City: ISEG, 2021), 26.
 Nican Mopohu, 26-28.
 The “ineffable grace” refers to her Immaculate Conception. The magisterial document of Pope Pius IX which formulated the dogmatic definition of our Catholic faith in Mary’s Immaculate Conception bears the title Ineffabilis Deus.