Archbishop Paul S. Coakley
In the simple beauty of its liturgy, Advent is one of the richest seasons of the year. The prayers and readings at Mass as well as the hymns and antiphons of the Liturgy of the Hours invite us to a quiet reflection that heightens our sense of longing as we prepare to welcome the King who comes to save us.
Advent also is a season with memorable rituals and traditions for the home as well. Lighting each candle of the Advent wreath may be the occasion to gather family or friends for a moment of prayer. The child’s anticipation and joy each day upon opening another door or window of an Advent calendar reminds us why the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who become like little children.
Precisely because the season of Advent is characterized by quiet waiting and unhurried preparation, it is easily lost in the noise and frenzy of the commercial “holiday season.” “Black Friday” has now become “Black Thursday!” We don’t even wait until the Thanksgiving table is cleared before the shopping frenzy begins. The pressures of shopping for bargains and that perfect gift, the rounds of parties, decorating and travel create a level of stress and busyness that is anything but reflective. No wonder so many people experience only exhaustion or letdown when Christmas finally arrives.
It is a pitiful and telling symptom that so many Christmas trees are already stripped and littering the curb and landfills on the day after Christmas. Was it only about the presents? The “shopping season” may be over but the real feast of Christmas is just beginning. As Catholics, we celebrate the octave day of Christmas on Jan. 1 by honoring the Mother of God and the Christmas season will reach its climax with the feast of Epiphany. The real Christmas season has been completely eliminated in our culture just as Advent has been replaced by a commercial substitute. What can we do? We can let Advent be Advent. And let Christmas be Christmas.
In order to celebrate well such a great feast as Christmas, we need the weeks of Advent to prepare ourselves properly. We need the weeks of Advent to ponder and remember God’s age-old promises and to experience the longing of those patriarchs and prophets that still finds its echo in our own hearts today. It is the longing which cries out, “Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus!” It is the longing of our heart for the gift of salvation.
The word Advent means “coming.” During Advent we prepare to celebrate the Lord’s coming in history when he was born as a child in Bethlehem. We also prepare for his coming again in glory when he will judge the nations and turn over the Kingdom to his heavenly Father. But, there also is the Lord’s hidden coming to us in the mystery of his grace each day.
Christmas is not just a nostalgic remembering of an event that occurred in a faraway place a long time ago. Neither do we prepare for the birth of Christ by pretending that he has not yet been born. By remembering and pondering the mysteries leading up to and surrounding the birth of Jesus, the Spirit opens our hearts to experience His coming as something new for us!
Jesus Christ was born to bring salvation into our own world, and to bring joy and hope to our hearts today! He comes to renew a world grown old in sin and to make all things new.
The grace of Advent invites us to experience his coming with new hearts, as if, perhaps, for the first time. The Lord comes to us in this hidden way through his holy Word. He comes especially through the celebration of the Sacraments by which he communicates his gift of salvation to each of us.
Advent reminds us that there is much more going on here than getting and spending. There is a real reason for rejoicing. God is with us. Today!