Advent ushers in change. There is a change in color as purple is now the dominant shade in churches. The ambiance is little stark. Floral decorations are nowhere to be found. Someone lights the candle on the Advent wreath. The Gospel is proclaimed using a different evangelist (Luke). It is a new liturgical year. The mood shifts from an everyday experience to anticipation, the key theme of Advent.
Advent comes from the Latin word for “coming” or “approaching.” Advent season differs from Lent, which is much more a purging, a purification, whereas Advent is a readiness. We make ready for the coming. All the prophets, kings and judges anticipated this coming.
With anticipation comes speculation. These religious leaders of the Old Testament speculated this coming of the Messiah would bring a king, a great prophet, one who would judge the enemies of Israel.
During the Advent season, there is a need for vigilance. Imagine the sentinel assigned his post for the protection of the town, the tribe or the community. He is watching for the enemy through the night while his brothers and sisters rest in peace. But he not only watches for the enemy, but he watches for the dawn, the breaking of a new light. For when the light appears, the darkness which shelters the enemy is gone and the light exposes those who would seek destruction.
During Advent, we are called to be vigilant, to watch for the enemy and to await the light which illumines our world. How clearly we see those who seek our destruction when we are vigilant.
In order to maximize our experience of the Advent season, we must prepare. Preparation might be the most difficult task of all, because we must fight for preparation time.
We live in a society that demands immediate gratification. We don’t want to wait for anyone or anything. We almost have to steal preparation time in a world that rejects the sacred. A week before Thanksgiving, there are Christmas songs played on the radio. Stores have decorated trees. They are pushing Christmas gifts. No one is willing to wait.
But in the waiting, comes the appreciation for what will be received and, more particularly, for who comes to be with us. Without the waiting and preparation, we fail to appreciate the “mystery” of the person who chooses to come among us as man.
We are not a grateful people. We expect everything we receive and worse, we believe that we deserve it. There is a diminishment of the appreciation of “gift.” We can’t earn it and we don’t deserve it. How can we truly celebrate if we don’t understand who and what we are celebrating?
During the Advent season, anticipation alerts us, vigilance makes us aware and preparation readies us to celebrate Christmas. So there are a few actions we can take to fight the secularized society in which we live that rejects God and places itself in opposition to religion.
First, we pray. In order to have a relationship with God, we must pray. In every friendship, communication is vital for the growth of friendship. Prayer allows us to communicate the depth of our being but also to understand the “mystery” being revealed in the Advent prayers offered to us. We pray what we believe and our prayers reflect what the church teaches us about our Savior.
Second, we seek reconciliation. If we are truly to prepare during the Advent season, we make ready our hearts for the reception of the Lord at Christmas. Imagine if we knew that Christ was coming in the next few hours; confessional lines would be unbelievable.
We would want to be as ready as we possibly can in anticipation of what is about to happen: “People will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world for the powers of the heavens will be shaken” (Lk 21:26). A good confession will go a long way in the preparation to receive Christ.
Third, Pope Francis has declared a Year of Mercy, which will begin this Tuesday, Dec. 8, the feast of the Immaculate Conception. This gives us every opportunity to contemplate the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy and to exercise our participation in intentionally performing these works in the name of Jesus as his disciples.
What greater gift can we bestow upon the Lord than works of charity done out of love for him? There are plenty of places to share our blessings; just ask your pastor or your human concerns committee.
Fourth, find a meditation book (“Magnificat Advent Companion” or “Daily Reflections for Advent and Christmas,” by Genevieve Glen and Jerome Kodell) that offers a scriptural insight and allows you a brief thought or insight for you to carry throughout the day. Many of the books are designed for the busy person and become an oasis in a hectic world.
Fifth, be a promoter of your religious liberty by taking the opportunity to lead your family and friends in prayer at the dinner table or a family rosary or a night prayer shared with your spouse. Believe me, this will change your entire perspective on life, trusting in God’s hand to guide and direct you and realizing that you are a witness for others.
Henri Nouwen, in “The Genesee Diary: Report from a Trappist Monastery,” wrote: “I am struck by the fact that the prophets, speaking about the future of Israel always kept reminding their people of God’s great works in the past. They could look forward with confidence because they could look backward with awe to Yahweh’s great deeds.”
This Advent, think of the great deeds God has accomplished for us in the past and look forward to the future with confidence in God’s actions in your life.