December 7, 2011
[Editor’s note: I had grand plans to borrow substantially from Dennis Bratcher’s page entitled, “The Season of Advent: Anticipation and Hope,” from the website for the Christian Resource Initiative, until I discovered their copyright limitations.
So, unfortunately, you are limited to my own understanding of the Advent season, though it is quite influenced by his thoughts.
Please, run immediately to your computers and read what he has to say about it.]
The Christmas season is primarily a time of preparation: shopping for gifts for family and loved ones, gathering ingredients for holiday feasts and rehearsing endlessly for Christmas musicals.
It is also a time of anticipation: watching the gifts accumulate under the tree, waiting for family to come from faraway places and (already) looking forward to what the next year will bring.
It is easy not to notice the theme in our holiday mindset, but the spirit of expectation runs deep.
Advent provides a conscious way to remain mindful of the ultimate reason for our ongoing preparation as Christians.
Three important ideas can help us better understand the meaning of Advent and enrich our experience of the holiday season.
First, it encompasses a simultaneous sense of the past, present and future.
Advent begins the liturgical year of the church calendar, thus shifting the church’s perspective through its sense of time toward its ultimate center.
The anticipation and arrival of Jesus simultaneously ends the long wait for a Messiah and begins true life as we know it.
As the shape of the traditional Advent wreath represents God’s eternal nature and our eternal life in Christ, so it also points to how the Incarnation brings the Biblical story full circle.
Christians retell God’s plan for redemption from the beginning of creation to the birth of Jesus that also points to his eventual death and resurrection.
Some traditions use a Jesse tree to hang symbols of the Christian story throughout the four-five weeks of Advent, beginning the Sunday after the Thanksgiving holiday.
Second, it has deep connections with both Lent and Christ’s Second Coming.
Advent is inextricably tied to the Lenten season; the birth of Christ cannot be separated from his crucifixion.
Churches that follow the liturgical year represent both seasons with shades of purple (though the color for Advent is a deep, royal violet, while the one for Lent is lighter and fainter).
The importance of his arrival in human form can only be understood in light of the sacrificial death he will soon accept for his people.
Advent also references the Second Coming of the Messiah as a cause for spiritual preparation; thus, some traditions (particularly the Eastern Orthodox Church) emphasize the need for penitence at this time, purifying oneself to get ready for Christ’s next arrival.
Finally, the Advent season signals a great hope in the midst of hopelessness: “the people walking in darkness have seen a great light!”
God chooses to enter the world in the most unusual ways and immediately garners suspicion and controversy.
His birth ushers in occasion for slaughter, homelessness and political chaos.
As already seen before Jesus, the way of Yahweh is never without its difficulties.
Still, the thread that runs from creation through Incarnation and to the present day is ultimately one of hope in the Father’s faithfulness—in times of frustrated longing, physical anguish and financial insecurity, God remains present, if not immediately visible.
Despite the ongoing presence of sin, both in the world and in ourselves, all things work toward Jesus’ arrival on earth in the form least expected by everyone.
Ultimately, a great part of the “wonder” of the Advent season is the reminder that the Father continually intercedes in “ordinary” things and makes them greater than the sum of their parts; he stoops down (as Christmas celebrates, literally) to make us great.
In this way, Christ still makes himself known in the unexpected of his creation; through “the least of these,” he gives us ways to anticipate heaven on earth by preparing to love him through those made in his image.
The spirit of Advent, then, comes full circle in its awareness of the past faithfulness of God, the present manifestation of him in our everyday lives, and the future arrival of his glory in its fullness.
All of these things require reflection and preparation for the way of the cross.
Remembering the spiritual anticipation inherent in this often less than spiritual season implores us to echo the cry of the Church: “Even so, come, Lord Jesus.”
For more thoughts on the spirit of Advent, see Bratcher’s thoughts at www.crivoice.org/cyadvent.html.
For an explanation of the Advent wreath’s history, see Father William Saunders’ thoughts at http://www.catholiceducation.org.
For a general overview of the Advent season, go to http://www.aquinasandmore.com.