This coming Sunday we begin the journey of a new liturgical year as we enter into the season of Advent. The liturgical season of Advent celebrates the coming of God in two moments: the moment of Christ’s glorious return at the end of the world (the focus of the first part of Advent) and the moment of Christ’s coming in the fullness of time at the Incarnation (the focus of the latter part of Advent as Christmas draws near).
The word Advent means “coming” or “presence.” The season of Advent reminds us of Christ’s coming in glory at the end of time and of Christ’s coming in the flesh at Christmas. Very fundamentally, Advent teaches us about God, that our God is “the God who comes.” The one true God is not distant from us, up in heaven, unconcerned about us and our history. He is the God-who-comes. Pope Benedict XVI expressed this well when he said:
God is a Father who never stops thinking of us and, in the extreme respect of our freedom, desires to meet us and visit us; He wants to come, to dwell among us, to stay with us. His ‘coming’ is motivated by the desire to free us from evil and death, from all that prevents our true happiness. God comes to save us.
I invite you to live this beautiful season of Advent by immersing yourselves in the liturgies of Advent which focus on the coming of God to us, in the past, in the future, and in the present. We can easily forget about God and His coming to us now, in the present. So many things can distract us from God. In the Advent season, when the Church focuses on God’s coming, strangely we can become even more oblivious to God because of the busy-ness of this season. Our time can become consumed by material preparations for Christmas to the neglect of the preparation of our souls for the coming of the Lord.
In our daily lives, we can feel that we don’t have time for the Lord or even time for ourselves. We become absorbed in so many tasks: writing Christmas cards, buying presents, decorating our homes, attending parties, etc. None of these things are bad, but when they consume us and all our time, when we become absorbed in these things and neglect what really matters and is most important, the coming of the Lord, we will find ourselves unable to experience the hope of Advent and the true joy of Christmas.
How can we avoid the common pitfall of getting carried away with the materialism of “the holiday season” and absorption in the multiple distractions that easily monopolize our attention? I think it’s good to just step back and anticipate how we will spend our time these next four weeks. How can we reduce excessive activity and say no to some of the superfluous elements of the season? How can we create that “interior space” we all need to be with the Lord who desires to come to us now in the present? How can we allow God to enter into our life and speak to us? He wants to be close to us. Certainly, we wish to be close to Him, so we must make that closeness a priority, the priority of this season.
We are used to making resolutions in Lent. I suggest that we make two Advent resolutions. First: a commitment to prayer during the four weeks of Advent. Here are some examples to choose from: daily Mass; daily meditation on the Scriptures of the day; daily rosary; daily visit to the Blessed Sacrament. I think we should get concrete, otherwise, given our human weakness, we can end up with some generalized resolution to pray more and find ourselves forgetting about it.
In this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus says: Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life, and that day catch you by surprise like a trap… Be vigilant at all times and pray…” Moderation and prayer: great advice for the observance of Advent!
The second resolution I recommend relates to good works. In the opening prayer (the Collect) of the First Sunday of Advent, we pray that God will grant us “the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ with righteous deeds at His coming.” In this perspective, Advent is meant to be a season in which we live in special communion with those who are in need, the sick, the poor, and the oppressed. Advent and Christmas should stimulate us to charity.
I recommend, in addition to a prayer resolution in Advent, a charitable resolution. God is love. He has come to us and given us life in Jesus. He will return at the end of time and judge us according to our love for the least of our brothers and sisters. We are called to meet our God-who-comes with our works of charity, seeing God’s face in the face of our poor and suffering brothers and sisters. As we buy Christmas gifts for our loved ones, we can also buy a gift for someone in need or visit someone who is sick or lonely to share the joy of our faith.
We can learn how to live the season of Advent from the Woman of Advent, our mother Mary. She is a model of prayer whose Magnificat teaches us how to praise God and rejoice in Him. She is Our Lady of Charity who teaches us to go out, to serve the needy, as she went in haste to help her cousin Elizabeth. Mary helps us to center our lives on the God-who-comes since she is His Mother. May our Immaculate Mother guide us by her example and help us by her intercession to live Advent in a spirit of prayer and with charity, ready to receive anew the gift of her Son!