The Gift of Advent by Mary Abinante, Pastoral Associate
Next week we begin a new Church year and the season of Advent, a particular gift of our Catholic tradition. Much of the culture around us will be rushing headlong into Christmas, but we recognize two separate but complementary seasons, Advent and Christmastime.
Our observance of Advent, with its quiet, reflective waiting and watching, is very different from the hectic activity of the secular season. Advertisements would lead us to believe that what we do makes or breaks Christmas; we have to make it happen. Our frenetic preparation seems all important. As people of faith, we are challenged to focus not so much on what we do but on what God has done, is doing, and will continue to do for us. Through our celebration of Advent, we open ourselves to God preparing us for Christ’s coming:
- in the past — Jesus was born into the world, a day we remember for its significance for history and spirituality.
- in the present — as Jesus appeared to the first frightened disciples after his death on the cross, so he continues to live in the lives and hearts of believers today.
- in the future— the coming of the Lord at the end of time. In fact, the liturgy of Advent tells the story of Christ’s coming backward, beginning with this final coming.
This year the scriptures of the Advent season invite us to three actions or attitudes:
Wait: Throughout Advent we wait in joyful expectation of the coming of the Lord. In a world where so much is instantaneous, this season calls us to practice patience. We know that Christ came into our world that long-ago night in Bethlehem. But the kingdom he came to inaugurate is a long way from fulfillment, leaving us to experience it in the state some theologians call “already and not yet”. The prophets and John the Baptist remind us what God’s kingdom looks like: straight paths, mountains made low and valleys raised, mercy and justice, when “all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” Our Advent waiting is active, as we prepare the way for the presence of Jesus now and in the fullness of time.
Watch: In the gospel for the First Sunday of Advent, Jesus tells his disciples to stay awake, to be constantly on watch. Our Advent call is also to watch. Our lives are filled with demands for our attention, from daily responsibilities to the lure of advertising or cultural norms which promise happiness, wealth, or power. Without judgment, in the midst of all of this, Jesus asks us to be constantly on watch – for his presence in our lives and in our world, for the truth, for those who need us to be their voice or the hand of God.
Wonder: It is no accident that children are the face of Christmas, because they are filled with wonder. But as adults, we have heard the story so many times; we have seen dreams of peace die; we doubt that we can make a difference. Advent invites us to open ourselves to wonder: at God’s unconditional love for each of us, expressed in presence in every moment of our lives; at the mystery of the Incarnation: that God became one of us, and, in the words of our liturgy, “gives our mortal nature immortal value”; at the promise of hope for peace and justice for all the earth.
Mary is a perfect image for Advent. For the first coming of Jesus, she waited for his birth – a mystery she could not comprehend but accepted because of her deep faith and her knowledge of all the ways that God had been with her people through generations. In his growing up and in his ministry, she watched – and followed as his first disciple, learning from him as he learned from her. And she wondered, which allowed God to work through her to advance the plan of salvation: My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior. (Luke 1:46)
Let us take the time to enjoy this special season. Not only will we be enriched by its gifts as we go along, we will probably experience its fruits even more in the Christmas season to come. May our gathering and celebrating together overflow into our daily lives and help to prepare a way for Christ in our world.