A season to savor in the silence of our homes and hearts
The first thing the Lord Jesus gives us in this new Church year, which begins today with the First Sunday of Advent, is a command, a clear and direct command: Be watchful! Be alert! We might translate this a little more directly and in less elevated language; He’s saying: Wake up! Pay attention! And if we don’t start our Advent this way – the way He (more than) suggests, we will have a hard time moving forward.
“Pay attention!” because something remarkable is beginning, something wondrous and of the utmost importance to your life is happening, something earth-shattering and life-changing. But what is happening – in spite of its magnitude – is very subtle, very quiet, and very gentle, yet powerful beyond our imagining. And we could miss it.
The old year in the Church’s calendar ended on the high note of the celebration of Christ as King of, well, absolutely everything – King of the Universe, no small title that! This is the culmination of the whole year’s liturgical movement – from His Birth through His Death, Resurrection and Ascension, and forward even, until the end of time when He will be All in All.
The new year begins, perhaps surprisingly, not with His Birth, not even with His Conception (that reality, the first moment of the Incarnation, celebrated already at the Annunciation on the 25th of March, is wrapped and gently hidden in the womb of Mary and of the old year), but with a period of preparation … of much-needed preparation.
The rhythm of the liturgical seasons is much more about helping us than about simply marking the great events of salvation history. And we need that help to get ready. At least I need it – and I dare say that we all, together, need it – in order to enter into the mystery that Christmas is: to welcome Christ at Christmas and at His Second Coming (but no one will be able to ignore that!), and, most crucially, at His mysterious Coming In-between. And it is especially the preparation for that great moment that the liturgy and its calendar, and in a special way Advent, seek to prepare us.
For the world around us, unless you happen to live somewhere where Christmas and the feeding frenzy of the commercialized Christmas is unknown, the Feast is already here; has been here, probably, for a few weeks already. All the signs and activities (admittedly, not all unpleasant or unwelcome) of what the world has decreed Christmas must be – these are already everywhere to be seen and, at times, either with forced enthusiasm enjoyed or, for those who dare to think differently, silently endured.
The feast has already begun, so we are told – and woe to you if you do not dive headlong cheerfully into the choppy waters of buying and more buying, rushing around hectically, celebrating furiously (with “Christmas” parties) that which has not yet come, and, in general, becoming so exhausted that, when the real Feast actually does arrive, you can usher it quickly out the door on the 26th, and get ready for the next frantic command from the world.
This is not to say that many of the trappings of the cultural celebration of Christmas and the “holiday” season are bad; on the contrary, many have a real charm and of great sentimental value. But the unrelenting bustle and noise (even that of Christmas music a bit too early) of what this time of Advent has become, make it all the more important that we heed the command of the Lord: “Be Watchful. Pay Attention.”
Or you will miss it. Not the Lord’s first coming 2000 years ago. We know that happened and believe in it, and our celebration of Christmas, even with all the less than religious bits, testifies to this belief. You will most definitely