Even before the leftovers from Thanksgiving dinner are consumed, radios stations play Christmas carols, Christmas decorations are displayed and Black Friday – the day after Thanksgiving dedicated to the beginning of Christmas shopping – is trumpeting cost savings for the early shopper. Stores were so eager to enter the Christmas shopping season this year that many of the major ones opened on Thursday afternoon to get a head start on the competition. So much for traditional family dinners.
Violence was reported at stores with shoppers attempting to secure sale items. Blessed John Paul II warned about the western consumer and materialistic mentality. We become so fixed on things that we ignore the relationships which give meaning to our lives. It seems to drain the spirit from the season. We so rush to the holidays that we fail to understand the importance of the preparation necessary to appreciate what we celebrate.
We have entered into the liturgical season of Advent. To the secular world, Advent has little meaning; it is something that is practiced by those “religious folk” in their worship. Yet, Advent is important for us as Christians in order to fully understand the beautiful message proclaimed at Christmas. Rushing to Christmas without an Advent experience is similar to opening your Christmas gift the day after Thanksgiving. The gift loses its surprise and becomes meaningless quickly.
Advent is different from Lent, although both demand preparation. There is an anticipation of expectation that is a part of the season of Advent. For ages, the prophets foretold of the coming of a Messiah. This event would re-establish for us the relationship with God that was lost by the sin of our first parents, Adam and Eve.
However, we did not know when or how this would occur. We were told to trust in God that it would happen at his appointed time. Therefore, we wait with expectation.
There are many times in our life that we wait with expectations. Ask a couple preparing for marriage about expectations as they go over every detail about a wedding which is months away. Or a couple expecting their first child who page through a book of names, decorate a baby’s room and anticipate what it will be like to be a family. Tell a small child that you are going to take a family trip to Disney World and every day questions upon questions will be asked, websites will be visited and the calendar will be marked. In anticipation of these events, they all begin to dream and plan.
The beauty of Advent is that it allows us the time to dream and plan. We anticipate with expectation.
The event that takes place at Christmas is unimaginable and exceeds every expectation of humankind. Our God becomes one with us through the birth of his Son. Through this divine revelation in Sacred Scripture, we are offered an insight into the generous love of a God who empties himself into our world. Of course, Christmas is a historical event; Jesus has come, but in the liturgical season we have the opportunity to re-enact the time of his coming through our weekly celebrations. It offers us a framework, a chance to dream and plan.
A number of ritual practices occur during Advent. We light the Advent wreath, with each candle highlighting a particular theme and signifying a week leading to Christmas. Parishes may provide a Jesse tree where blessings are shared with the less fortunate.
Daily reflection books that share an insight on each day leading up to and through the Christmas season offer opportunities for personal preparation. The Magnificat publication and Advent reflections from Bishop Robert Morneau, auxiliary from Green Bay, are two examples. Many choose to attend daily Mass, evident in the significant increase in daily Mass attendance during Advent.
Some charitable works are performed and, given the state of the economy, many organizations are seeking assistance and welcome the helping hands.
It is most important that we experience the sacrament of reconciliation, especially during Advent. It’s a way to prepare ourselves for receiving the gift of Christ and acknowledging his love. We need to ask for forgiveness from the one who loves us.
Adoration is also a wonderful religious practice. With our hectic and busy schedules, the noise of the world bombarding us in every manner, it is a treat to be able to spend time in silence with our Lord through the real presence.
Certain feasts are enjoyed during Advent. Hang your stockings for a visit from Old St. Nick. (I received coal one year and never forgot it.) The story of this generous Bishop St. Nicholas is an inspiration to many, especially children.
Two very important patronal feasts of Our Mother Mary are observed. On Dec. 8, we celebrate the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (Mary born without original sin) the patronal feast of the United States and on Dec. 12 we celebrate Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patroness of all the Americas as well as the patron of Mexico. The Mexican community especially knows how to celebrate this feast spiritually and socially.
Allow this Advent to be a time when you slow down and enjoy the days spent with the Lord reflecting on the blessings of family and friends, preparing the way for his coming and understanding just how generous is the love of our God. Believe me, he will return at a time when we least expect him. What a blessing for us to anticipate his return and to be about the Master’s work.