One of the hymns that is sung during Advent asks, “O Come Divine Messiah.” Similar to other Advent hymns, such as “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” we ask Jesus to “come.” Why are we asking Jesus to “come” when He has already come?

He speaks to us daily through His Word, in the Scriptures. He promised that He and the Father would make their home within us and that the Spirit would be with us. Daily, it is possible for us to receive Jesus in the Eucharist.

What are we expecting Him to do when we ask Him to come as “Messiah”? “Messiah,” which means “the anointed one,” seems to be one who “takes charge” of the existing disorders. Although we use the title “Messiah” in hymns, we probably can’t think of other times that we use it otherwise. In fact, most of us use it frequently, since our English word, “Christ” comes from Christos, the Greek word for “Messiah.”

During Jesus’ lifetime, many Jews expected God to send an “anointed one,” a “Messiah,” descended from David, to deliver them from subjection to foreign nations, as David did, and to restore the worship of the Lord.

Jesus did not meet their expectations nor did He intend to fulfill them. When a crowd tried to make Him their king, Jesus slipped away (Jn 6:15).

Only half way through each of the Synoptic Gospels, does Peter, the spokesperson for the disciples, declares that Jesus is the Messiah (Mk 8:29; Mt 16:16; Lk 9: 20). We are not sure who they thought Jesus was but, probably because they shared the popular expectation, identifying Jesus as the “Messiah” dawned on them slowly. The Synoptics tell us that Jesus evaded the title and even when the disciples recognized Him as Messiah, He cautioned them not to tell anyone (Mk 8:30).

John the Baptist expected that the Messiah would bring a religious and moral reform, bringing with Him, “the wrath that is to come” (Mt 3:7) and cutting like “an ax at the root of the tree,” taking down “every tree that didn’t bear fruit” (Mt 3:12). John seems to have had his doubts that Jesus was the one.

John sent disciples to Jesus to ask, “Are You the One who is to come or shall we look for another?” (Mt 11:3). Jesus responds with the words of Isaiah: “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind recover their sight, cripples walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the Gospel preached to them” (Mt 11:4-5, cf. Is 35:5-6; 61:1).

The healings indicate the type of Messiah that Jesus is. Only at the time of His Passion and death does His identity as Messiah becomes clearer. In His trial, the high priest asks Him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?” And Jesus answers “I am” (Mk 14:61-62). As He hangs on the Cross, people mock Him as “the Messiah” (Mk 15:32; Lk 23:35).

After the Resurrection and the giving of the Spirit, Jesus’ disciples began to announce freely that Jesus was the Messiah, as Peter declared “God has made Him Lord and Messiah” (Acts 2:36).

In His death and Resurrection, Jesus was the Messiah. He did not defeat armies or force a religious reform but through the graces of His death and Resurrection Jesus brought a powerful healing force into the world.

Jesus’ being the Messiah was so important to His early followers that they frequently attached it to His name, Jesus, Messiah, “Jesus Christ.” His followers quickly became known as “Christians,” those who believed that Jesus was the Christ.

When we ask Jesus to come as “Messiah,” we are asking His to manifest His power in the present, in the situations in which we are involved.

If He has already come to us, why do we ask Him to “come”? St. Thomas Aquinas explains: “The whole Trinity dwells in the mind by sanctifying grace… But that a divine Person be sent to anyone by invisible grace signifies that this Person dwells in a new way…” (1a. 43, 5). When we ask Jesus to “come,” we ask Him to come “in a new way.”

The Holy Spirit is present in the coming of the Son: “That a divine Person be sent to someone through grace, therefore, requires a likeness to the Person sent through some particular gift of grace. Since the Holy Spirit is love, the likening of the soul to the Holy Spirit occurs through the gift of charity and so the Holy Spirit’s mission is accounted for by reason of charity (1a. 43, 5, ad 2).

While the coming of the Spirit increases love, the coming of the Son brings enlightenment but not enlightenment alone but enlightenment that “breathes love,” the Holy Spirit as well:

The Son in turn is the Word; not just any word, but the Word breathing Love;[1] as Augustine says, “The Word I want the meaning understood is a knowledge accompanied by love.”[2] Consequently not just any enhancing of the mind indicates the Son being sent, but only that sort of enlightenment that bursts forth into love…So Augustine says pointedly, ‘The Son is being sent whenever someone has knowledge or perception of Him,’ for perception points to a kind of experiential awareness…(1a. 43, 5, ad 2).

The Son does not come without the Spirit: “One mission cannot take place without the other because neither takes place without sanctifying grace, nor is one Person separated from the other” (1a. 43, 5, ad 3).

The coming of the Son and the Spirit renew us: “The invisible mission takes place as regards progress in virtue or increase in grace” (1a. 43, 6).

The coming of the Son and the Spirit relate to new roles, and increases of grace and the fervor of charity: “Such an invisible mission chiefly occurs as regards anyone’s proficiency in the performance of a new act, or in the acquisition of a new state of grace; as for example, the proficiency in reference to the gift of miracles or of prophecy, or in the fervor of charity…” (1a. 43, 6, ad 2).

As we approach Christmas, we ask Jesus to “come” with His Spirit to be present with us in a new way, with the gifts of the Messiah, an increased appreciation that breathes love.

Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P.

References to Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae give the part of the Summa, which, in this case, is the first part. This is followed by the question, which in these references is question 43. Thirdly are the articles from which the quotations are taken. These are from articles 5 and 6. If the reference is to Thomas’ response to an objection that he raised in the beginning of the article, it is identified as “ad” (the Latin for “to”) followed by the number of the objection.

 

[1] Verbum, non qualecumque, sed spirans Amorem

[2] De Trinitate, IX, 10.