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Advent

adventAs we approach the end of November the Church enters the season of Advent.  The first Sunday of Advent is always the Sunday closest to November 30th, the Feast of Saint Andrew, the Apostle.  In this way there are always four Sundays of Advent before the feast of the Nativity of our Lord at Christmas.  This season can be looked at in several different ways as a season of extension or preparation.

As an extension, Advent occurs immediately following the Solemnity of Christ the King as the last Sunday in Ordinary Time.  Although we say that the Solemnity of Christ the King ends the liturgical year and Advent begins the New Year, there certainly is a connection.  Throughout Ordinary Time, we often hear about the teachings and actions of our Lord Jesus Christ in His ministry.  This season culminates with us acknowledging that Jesus is the true Lord of our lives and our world, that He is Christ the King.  But then in Advent the response to this acknowledgement is to desire Jesus to once again come into our world.  As Christians today we wait for the culmination of all things in the return of Jesus Christ.  We still acknowledge this each and every time we proclaim the Nicene Creed during Holy Mass, “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and His kingdom will have no end.”  We also remind ourselves that the very last words of Scripture tell us of the situation in which we find ourselves.  At the conclusion of the Book of Revelation we read, “It is I, Jesus, who sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches.  I am the root of and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.”  The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.”  And let everyone who hears say, “Come.”  And let everyone who is thirsty come. … The one who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.”  Amen.  Come, Lord Jesus!”  (Revelation 22:16-17, 20)  As Holy Scripture closes with these words, these are the words of the Church for today.  We wait for the return of Jesus.  The church, the Bride of Christ, says “Come, Lord Jesus.”  The season of Advent is an extension in that it is the response to the acknowledgement that Jesus is Lord.

This season is also a preparation.  Certainly I imagine that in our world today we tend to look at these few weeks in this way, of course maybe not as the season of Advent, but rather as a secular preparation for Christmas.  As the month of December begins there is certainly much pressure to get ready for Christmas.  In fact we can sometimes see that Christmas sales and displays might have been present even since the time of Halloween.  We are encouraged to get our homes ready by decorating.  We are encouraged to get ready by spending countless hours in stores looking for just the right gift for everyone we know.  But all this is not the season of Advent.

Advent encourages us to get our hearts, our minds and our lives ready for the arrival of the new-born Messiah on the Solemnity of the Nativity.  Like the prophets of long ago, we know that Jesus is coming into the world and we must work to make ourselves ready.  This certainly occurs within the liturgical life of the Church, via the celebration of the Sunday Masses and also with the celebration of Rorate Masses in Advent which honor the Blessed Virgin Mary.  These Masses have always had a special place in my Advent preparation.  The faithful gather in the

early morning, oftentimes while it is still dark, to honor the Blessed Virgin as an example for all Christians who wait for Jesus, the true light.  During these Masses the ancient prophesies regarding the Messiah are read and we also read of their fulfillment in the history of the life of Mary from the time of the annunciation until the birth of Jesus.

And of course there are also many other ways to honor this Advent season in our homes as well.  Many families light an Advent wreath, especially before the evening meal within their homes. Meditations or prayers are read and the light
multiplies from one candle to four as the time for the birth of Jesus draws closer.  There is also the tradition of an Advent calendar.  On each day as the number is counted down a small door or drawer is opened on the calendar revealing an image or portion of Scripture.  Each of these family devotions gives us the feeling that we are in the time of waiting and expectation.

Within the family, Advent is also a great time to begin to set up the Nativity scene.  The manger can be placed out, as well as some of the people and animals that are not as crucial to the story.  Of course Mary and Joseph would be saved for Christmas Eve and the Christ Child for Christmas Day, either after returning from Midnight Mass or early in the morning.  This too reminds us that Advent is to be a time of preparation, and as we prepare our homes we should also be preparing our hearts and lives for the arrival of Jesus.

Although I certainly see in Advent both an extension of the liturgical year past and a preparation for the arrival of Jesus, in another sense I always look at Advent as the best expression of where all Christians are now within our spiritual lives.  Each and every day of our lives we are waiting and striving to bring Jesus into the world.  In prayer we desire to be in contact with Jesus as the Lord and Savior of our lives.  We receive Holy Communion to unite ourselves with Him.  We want Jesus to be a part of our family life, our work life and our worship life.  We want Jesus to be born into every one of our thoughts and actions.  And of course we desire this not only for ourselves, but also for those we love, for our families and our parishes.  Each prayer, each act of love, kindness and mercy is, in some ways, filled with the plea, “Come, Lord Jesus.”

I often think that it is for this reason that although I certainly am lifted up and rejoice in the hymns of Christmas and Easter, it is the hymns of Advent that speak to me most strongly.  They are the hymns of my daily life.  These hymns cry out “Come Jesus” just as my prayers and good works do.  So many of these hymns are familiar to us, but do we take time to contemplate the words, “Send forth, O Heavens,” “Come, Thou Long-expected Jesus,” and many others.  During this season of Advent, I encourage you to listen to the words of the Advent hymns and make them a part of your daily prayer life.  As an example, I’ll share one of my favorites.  “O Come Divine Messiah! The world in silence waits the day, when hope shall sing its triumph, and sadness flee away.  Sweet Savior, haste; Come, come to earth: dispel the night and show Thy face and bid us hail the dawn of grace.  O come, Divine Messiah, the world in silence waits the day, when hope shall sing its triumph and sadness flee away.”

Let this Advent be a response to the acknowledgement that Jesus is the Lord of our lives and let it be the time of preparation to accept Him, not only at the Solemnity of the Nativity, but to welcome and accept Jesus each and every day.

 

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