In a world where Christmas decorations are on sale even before Halloween, it is quite difficult to remember what Christmas is truly about. Plastic Santas and reindeer pop up on front lawns across the country, “Merry Christmas” is replaced with “Happy Holidays,” and the season of peppermint mochas and eggnog lattes has engulfed us once again. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas, but what many people don’t even realize is that Christmas doesn’t actual begin until December 25 and they miss out on the season of Advent, which precedes Christmas in the Catholic liturgical calendar, a season I love just as much as Christmas.
While the world turns to Santa Claus (who is actually based on the real life figure of St. Nicholas, who lived in the 300s A.D. and gave gold anonymously to a family to help the daughters avoid selling themselves into prostitution for desperately needed money), the Church turns her attention to the foundation of Christmas itself, the coming of Jesus Christ into the world. Advent is a season which calls all people to wait and prepare for the coming of Jesus Christ by reflecting on His triple comings: His first coming in Bethlehem at the Nativity, His coming into our hearts each and every day (particularly through the Eucharist during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass), and His future second coming as Judge of the living and the dead (Christ’s coming in history, mystery, and majesty). Advent is the season of four weeks leading up to Christmas beginning four Sundays prior to December 25 each year. Advent comes from the Latin word “adventus” meaning “coming” or “arrival.” It is a word that reflects the theme for this time: waiting in anticipation of and preparing for the coming of Christ.
The focus of these four weeks is not on Christmas itself (that comes on December 25 and following), but on the preparing for Christmas, the coming of Christ. As such, it is, by nature, a penitential season, meaning it is a time to look into our own hearts and see where in our lives we are not ready for Christ’s second coming. It is a time to ask ourselves, “If I died today, would I have lived my life worthy of entering Heaven with God for all eternity?” God and eternal life in heaven should be our goal in life since He is the author of life itself and relationship with Him in eternity is the only thing that can truly fulfill us. Earthly life has meaning way beyond the material world and also the presents we receive at Christmas. Everything on this earth will pass way as aptly pointed out by a friend of mine who likes to say, “You’ll never see a hearse pulling a U-Haul.” Earthly life is meaningless without God and because we have free will, we are able to choose to follow God and His plan for us in our lives or not. When we choose contrary to God, we distance ourselves from Him, and we prevent His grace from acting in our lives, thereby risking the loss of eternal life altogether (by rejecting God by our own free will).
Advent is a privileged time to look into our own hearts and do a bit of “spring cleaning” in December. It is a time to reflect on and recognize those places in our lives that we are choosing ourselves or other things over God and His love and it is a time to make a change in order to live our life in the light and love of God and ultimately receive eternal salvation by following Christ with our whole lives. As Advent rightly reveals, our earthly end is unknown and the second coming of Christ is also unknown, so we must be ready for it when it comes. As Jesus tells his disciples, “Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come…May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!’” (Mark 13:33, 36-37). So this Advent as you drink your peppermint mocha and see all the Christmas decorations go up around town, recall what this season of Advent is all about, preparation for the coming of Jesus Christ and by living your life modeled after Jesus Christ, strive to be ready for His coming in history, mystery, and majesty.
Follow along with me this year as I reflect and shed light on the journey of Advent each week leading to the Nativity at the Cathedral of St. Mary website, Facebook, myParish App, and right here on my website!