Advent is here and with it, a spirit of anticipation.
We live amid an odd mixture of secular and religious symbols and preparations for celebrating the birth of Jesus. I remember fondly and somewhat wistfully the purism of my convent days, when the season was all about the spiritual preparation for Christ’s coming. The Advent wreath was the focal point of our preparations; no Christmas decorations went up until Christmas Eve; and everything Christmas stayed in place until Epiphany — some even until the Feast of the Purification on February 2.
Now, we start decorating as soon as the Thanksgiving dinner leftovers have been put away, and the days between Thanksgiving and Christmas are referred to as “shopping days,” and for many, if not most, Christmas is over on December 26.
If we are listening carefully to the Sunday homilies, we get a better feel for what this season is really about. It helps to remember that all of the crazy commercialism really has its roots in Christian tradition. The practice of giving gifts in celebration of the birth of Jesus has a long history; we’ve let it get far out of hand, but still, we can trace it back to Christian roots. And the lights! Jesus is light of the world. From the lighted trees, the bright angels, and the sparkling reindeer on the front lawn, all those lights really began as a way to remind of us that fact.
As my faith and spiritual life have grown and evolved over the past several years, since my return to the Church in 2012, I’ve come to desire a more radical approach to Advent and Christmas. That is, I favor getting back to the roots of Christmas celebration. The lesson for my 7th-grade catechism students for this first Sunday of Advent emphasized how, with this first Sunday of the new liturgical year, we prepare for the celebration of Jesus’ birth as a way of also preparing for His second coming. We know when Christmas is, but we don’t know when that second coming will be — only that He tells us to hold up our heads, for our redemption is at hand, and He tells us to be vigilant.
Yes, I’ve strung my Christmas lights and put up my trees and other decorations; this year, I’ve done it with greater focus on what they symbolize. Yes, I’ll be giving gifts; I’ll give with a greater focus on my own gratitude for the greatest gift God gave His creation — His Son. And I just might leave the lights and decorations up until “Twelfth Night,” or Epiphany, remembering that December 25 is only the first day of Christmas.
It’s a small way to have the courage of faith — courage to witness to the birth of our Salvation, the Light of the world, courage to set aside the commercialism and secularism in favor of the celebration of Jesus, our Emmanuel and our Savior.
It’s a new year in faith. Our pastor, in this morning’s homily, said that the daily readings for Advent will lead us through the Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah and the New Testament recounting of how those prophecies were fulfilled in Jesus. In this new year in faith, I am resolved to pray with those readings daily, and to write, here, about what those readings reveal to me as the Holy Spirit does His work in me.
I am the child of a God who loved me into existence; I am the child of a God Who created the entire universe and everything and everyone in it, and Who yet reaches down to love me individually and personally and very, very deeply. This infinite God wants to be with me, wants to be in my life, and rejoices when I turn to Him in Love.
He is coming, and everything in my life must be focused on welcoming Him — both in the celebration of His birth and in His return, whenever that may be.
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