Quite naturally, when we think of Advent, Christmas isn’t far behind in our minds. Somehow though, with Christmas on our minds, the time of Advent becomes obscured. Instead of a “period of devout and expectant delight” as one Church document describes Advent, we find the endless to-do lists: Christmas shopping, Christmas card writing, prepping for meals, Christmas decorating. Advent is indeed a time of preparation for Christmas, but I’d like to propose another way of thinking about Advent, and it is simply this: At the center of Advent is the theme of time.
As a season of preparation for Christmas, Advent gives us an opportunity to look back in time — at the coming of God in the flesh into the world.
Observing the Nativity of the Lord at Christmas is an ancient custom in the Church, and the Nativity forms one of the two hinges of the liturgical year (Easter being the other one).
Just as we need to prepare for our own celebration of Christmas (see the above list), we also need to spend time spiritually preparing to celebrate and remember the birth of Our Lord. Advent gives us that time.
The latter part of Advent, especially, focuses on this theme of looking back in time in preparation to celebrate the first coming of Jesus.
Much of Advent, however, gives us the opportunity to look forward in time — to the glorious coming of Christ at the end of time. Thinking about the end times can be a frightening idea, and Advent Scripture even alludes to this fear: “People will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world … ” (Lk 21:26). But this doesn’t have to be a fearful time. In fact, Advent calls us to be ready for the Second Coming of Christ and to wait for the Second Coming with joyful anticipation!
Why is this? Because of what ultimately is promised in the Second Coming: “When these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads, because your redemption is at hand!” (Lk 21:28). In the midst of the calamity that is foretold, there is a message of hope and redemption.
Finally, Advent calls us to take the time to look at the present and seek Christ in our lives today. Advent offers us a time to renew our relationship with Christ today, especially through the Sacraments of Eucharist and Reconciliation. Do we see Christ in those in need? Sometimes, we don’t even need to look further than our own families.
So, let us take the time for Advent. Let us take the time to thank God for the gift of Himself in the child Jesus. Let us take the time to acknowledge continually the presence of God in our lives today. Let us take the time to prepare ourselves for the second coming or, more personally, take the time to prepare to meet Christ at the end of our own earthly existence. If we take the time to enter into the opportunity Advent gives us to look at time past, present and future, then we will be ready to receive Christ into our lives, not only at Christmastime, but all the time.
- Josh Perry, Director of the Office of Worship
- Originally published in the Dec. 1–7, 2018, issue of The Inland See