Here it is, the weekend after Thanksgiving and I feel surrounded by the looming holidays, decorations on store facades, displays of Christmas lights and decorations in stores, tree lots unfolding wrapped trees and people installing lights on their homes. For many the holidays are upon us. Ready or not the season is here, but which season? For the faith community, Advent is here. Every Advent we celebrate Jesus’ coming as an infant long ago, his ongoing presence with us now, and his return in glory in the future. Advent is also a season of repentance; John the Baptist calls us to “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand” (Matthew 3: 2) In another way Advent is a continuation of the year of mercy though officially ended, still reminds us of Gods’ infinite love and mercy. It is also a time of preparation for the Nativity of God, and the manifestation of God to the Gentiles, to the whole world on Epiphany symbolized in the Three Magi.
The origins of Advent as a time of preparation for Epiphany date back to the fourth and fifth centuries in Spain and Gaul when it was seen as a penitential time to prepare for the coming of the Lord for those who were to be baptized. In the fifth century under Pope Gregory the Great the focus shifted to prepare for the liturgical celebration of Christ’s incarnation, Christ’s birth which is very close to our hearts.
So, we have four weeks to reflect and pray, reminding us of the four thousand years our ancestors in faith awaited the coming of the Messiah. The candles lit each week on the Advent wreath are one symbol of this time of expectation and anticipation. It can be used in homes and in the church to symbolize the ever increasing light that shines forth on these ever shorter winter days.
“The season of Advent has a twofold character. It is a time of preparation for Christmas when the first coming of God’s son to men and women is recalled. It is also a season when we are reminded of the second coming of Christ at the end of time” writes Adolf Adam in his book The Liturgical Year. The Advent Sunday liturgies are rich in imagery that can lead us to prayer. .
It is the paradox of the season, Christ has already come, but we prepare for his coming again. Christ is alive in our midst in the sacraments and still we look for his coming anew in our lives and hearts. Christ is the reason for this special season that is far more incredible than any secular holiday. Let us take time each day to be mindful of this holy season, light an Advent candle each day, say the Advent prayers, leave room for Christ in our lives in the course of very busy days as we go about the necessary details of shopping, decorating, preparing and getting ready for the coming feast of Christmas.
The week before Christmas we focus on the O antiphons so familiar to us in the hymn, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” May the tune of that song resonate in our minds and hearts when we travel, run errands and continue family preparations. Finally, maybe you could treat yourself by buying an Advent music CD available on-line or at any of the Catholic bookstores. Have a Happy Advent!
Father Larry Hendel