“Stay awake! For you do not know on which day the Lord will come… you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.”
—Matthew 24:42, 44
Advent is not Christmas.
Advent is not an extended pre-Christmas Season.
Advent is a gift—a time and season all to itself.
The use of vestments, hangings, and candles in shades of blue-purple and rose, the emphasis on preparation and expectation in Advent readings and carols, and the pervasive themes of judgment, restoration, and re-creation have little to do with the sights and sounds that fill shopping malls, homes, too many churches, and most hearts these days. Sadly, too many of us seem to have forgotten that we can really only celebrate the new-born Light of Christmas if we have dwelt in the darkness of Advent. The distinctive nature of Advent is really driven home in the readings chosen for this First Sunday of Advent: this is a time of encounter and promise.
When I lead Advent-themed retreats and times of reflection, I often stress that this season isn’t really about little baby Jesus lying in the manger. That’s because, these days, our attention should be focused on watching and waiting for Christ… yes, Christ as the Infant of Bethlehem, but also as the Lord of Time who will bring to completion the transformation that was begun in the Incarnation.
In his book, Preparing for Christmas, Father Richard Rohr, O.F.M., explains Advent-waiting in this way:
“Come, Lord Jesus,” the Advent mantra, means that all of Christian history has to live out a kind of deliberate emptiness, a kind of chosen non-fulfillment… This keeps the field of life wide open and especially open to grace and to a future created by God rather than ourselves. This is exactly what it means to be “awake,” as the Gospel urges us!
And so, Advent is the season that reminds us that we are still waiting for the fulfillment of what was begun in the Incarnation and continued in Jesus’ Death and Resurrection (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 671-672). Unfortunately, this sense of incompleteness—”until he comes again”—is crowded out by our pre-Christmas decorations and festivities. When we let this happen, we can find that the great Christmas Season lacks the real sense of fulfillment and joy that it might otherwise have.
Living in the tension of Advent isn’t easy and few of us want to spend time waiting in darkness.
In the end, we’re left with a question: What are we waiting for this Advent? Are we—are you—waiting for anything?
Remember, Advent is concerned with the future, not the past. Christ has already been born and all of creation was changed when Jesus was born of Mary so many centuries ago. If our waiting is only about looking forward to a celebration of Jesus’ “birthday” on December 25, then both Advent and even Christmas itself have little purpose, beyond being just another anniversary on the calendar. But, because Advent is about looking within and recognizing those places within us and in our world where the darkness of sin, fear, hopelessness, and grief still flourish, we need these blessed days to pray and watch for the coming of the dawn of that day when the Sun of Justice will drive the darkness away. We watch and wait. We light candles to remind us that the darkness is being conquered by the One who is the Light of the World. Above all, we hope.
What are you waiting for this Advent? What is your Advent prayer?
How does the promise of the Lord’s Return in glory inspire you? challenge you?
What is your hope for your life of faith as we enter into a new Year of Grace?
Words of Wisdom: “If we wait for nothing, then it’s not Advent waiting. If we’ve grown past the nostalgia and commercial-driven aspects of the season, that’s not a bad thing. The ghost of the past is not our only visit this season, as Charles Dickens reminded us in A Christmas Carol. We’re not simply looking backward at another year gone, along with its opportunities, companions, and choices. Even the babe in his cradle of straw—Christ in the rear-view mirror—isn’t the only Savior on the horizon. When we Advent together, our focus is primarily forward.”
—Alice Camille, Waiting for God: The Grace of Advent