This last Sunday, the first Sunday in Advent, was the first day of the Church’s New Year. It comes without fanfare – no countdowns, no parties, no whistles, pan clanging, dances, and midnight celebrations (assuming you still care to stay up that late). Our new year is always greeted in the quiet solemnity of the hours before dawn.
Advent almost seems counterintuitive, uncomfortably out of place following the triumphant chorus of Christ the King only one week before. This is especially so since, for the world around us, All Hallowed Saints Eve begins what was named with just sarcasm ‘HallowThankMas’. Serious intentions to faithfully observe Advent meet daily with contradictions. We find ourselves expected to participate in a hurried season full of parties, special performances, Christmas music, and presents, all BEFORE the Nativity which is the reason for our celebrations. Our culture has ‘de-Nativity-ized’ Christmas and too often, worn and ever frazzled, we heave huge sighs of relief that the December furor is over and the “if I hear another Christmas song I’ll die” mentality sets in, and we take a needed week to recover.
In spite of our culture, I wish to hold out an encouragement to remember it was not always so. Advent was a more subdued time that remembers the world before the Christ was born, when the world lay in the shadowy darkness of the Old Covenant. Advent begins by reinserting us in that darkness and calls us to remember it. It was a time for a renewed focus on fasting, a time of reflection on the meaning of Christ’s appearance in history. On the feast of the Nativity the Saviour Himself passed from nine months of darkness in His mothers womb – the Light of the World. They that walked in darkness rejoiced that the Light had come.
Advent also forces us to look at the darkness that remains and is so frequently evident around us. As the Light of the world came into the world, and in turn charges us, “You are the light of the world,” we are to notice what things in us, as individuals and the Church, impede the progress of the Light, obscure its brightness, or deflect its piercing rays. The King is coming to remove them, to burn from us all these gross impediments. The four Sunday journey to the Nativity heightens our sense of of longing and joyful hope. THEN on Christmas morning the celebration begins. THEN we have twelve days of celebrations (not two months) culminating in the Epiphany – the revelation of Christ to the Gentiles, to us.
So Advent is a reflective season, a time of preparation, and not primarily one of celebration. We wish the true meanings and intentions of Advent were more widely understood and observed but, alas, our world is far from it. Participate well in things you are invited to. Do not be aloof or dour. Do not be grudging. However, do live as you are able in its intentions. I urge each of you and your families to begin serious Advent traditions (for example: the Jesse Tree, an Advent Wreath, an Advent Calendar, the Great O Antiphons, and any of your own) and find creative ways to stay as unplugged as possible from the fray. This way we can celebrate the Twelve Days more vigorously and actually enjoy it.
Let’s ask God this Advent season to use us mightily in the coming year, and for grace to turn up the brightness of the Light. Note especially the Advent Ember Days (this year on December 18, 20, and 21) and make a special effort on those days to fast and pray.
May the Lord bless our Advent intentions and devotions.