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Prepare the Way for the Lord: Why We Celebrate Advent

By Deacon Keith Fournier
December 2nd, 2013
Catholic Online (

This Sunday, Advent begins. In a western culture where the influences of Christian traditions are waning, many ask why we even celebrate Advent. It is helpful to know our Liturgical history in order to explain what we do to those who may inquire. But even more importantly, it can help each of us to enter more fully into the seasonal participation and experience the grace it offers. Over the next four weeks preceding the great celebration of the Nativity of the Lord Jesus, (Christ-Mass), Christians are invited to prepare, to get ready, to make a place for the Lord in our lives and in our homes and to anticipate His coming.

Prepare the Way for the Comings of the Lord: Why We Celebrate Advent

CHESAPEAKE, VA (Catholic Online) - We recently celebrated the end of the liturgical Church year in the Western Church with the Feast of Christ the King. It is a triumphant Feast of expectation wherein the faithful are invited to examine our lives in light of the coming return of Jesus Christ.

The Catholic Church proclaims to the entire world the truth that Jesus Christ, the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, the One through whom the world was created, and in whom the world is being re-created, will come again in Glory to bring redemption to completion and inaugurate the eternal Kingdom in a new heaven and a new earth. 

With the First Sunday of Advent we begin the walk through the liturgical year all over again, in order to enter more deeply into its meaning - and experience an ever deepening conversion to Jesus Christ. The liturgical cycle of the Catholic Church is a constant reminder to us that every end is a beginning. Advent is a gift, waiting to be unwrapped. No mere meaningless ritual, it can become a treasure for those who embrace it with living faith and jump in.

In and through our liturgical seasons of the Church we are invited to mark our life journey on the road between the first and the final coming of the Lord by commemorating the great events of the Christian faith. In so doing, we can more fully incorporate them into our daily lives and build a Christian culture infused with their beauty. We also bear witness to the Truth of the Gospel as we manifest the beauty of its promise to a world waiting to be born anew. 

As Christians, we believe that all time is a gift, given by God. There is no such thing as profane time for a Christian. Time has been transformed by the Paschal mystery; the Incarnation, Birth, Life, Death, Resurrection, Ascension and Coming Return of Jesus Christ. The Eternal One entered into human history. As a result, time has been forever changed, and so have we. Christ has come, Christ is coming and Christ will come Again!

Beginning the liturgical year on the first Sunday of Advent has not always been the custom. Human history reveals an inability to even agree on the beginning of a civil year. As for a liturgical year, it is the product of an evolution that has involved numerous reforms as the Church has moved forward in history.

In fact, the entire notion of seasons and a liturgical year, at least as we currently know them, was not a part of the nascent Church's lived experience. In the very early Church, the Resurrection of Jesus Christ was the hermeneutic, the lens, through which Christians viewed not only the entire year, but their entire lives.

It was only as the Church began to spread - and the imminent return of the Lord Jesus began to be understood in a different way - that liturgical seasons, by which we participate in the unified Mystery that is the Christian faith, began to evolve. Even then, there was a wide variance based upon local customs.

By the second half of the fourth century we find the earliest record of a protracted and specific period of a liturgical preparation for Christmas. Its length, emphasis and the practices related to its observance still underwent development.

Indeed, they continue to undergo development in our own day as the Church exhorts and guides the faithful to live out the full implications of the Christian Mystery in our personal lives and to carry forward in time the ongoing redemptive mission of Jesus Christ, the Head, as His Body on earth.

Jesus Christ is not dead. He is alive! He has been raised! He is seated at the right hand of the Father in His Resurrected Body - and we can participate in the eternal now that is the fullness of the resurrection. Jesus is not a memory to the Christian or to the Christian Church.

The liturgical life of His Body on earth must always proclaim, in both word and deed, the truth of the Resurrection. This kind of profound experience of, and belief in, the Resurrection, was at the heart of the early Church's life, witness and worship.

It can also become the hallmark of our own participation in the Liturgical year. Maranatha (Come, Lord jesus) was the heart cry of the early Christians. It must also become our own. It can, by the power of the Holy Spirit.The Liturgical Life of the Church can assist us in the process, to grow ever more deeply into the vocation of following jesus, through time and into eternity.

This Sunday, Advent begins. In a western culture where the influences of Christian traditions are waning, many ask why we even celebrate Advent. It is helpful to know our Liturgical history in order to explain what we do to those who may inquire. But even more importantly, it can help each of us to enter more fully into the seasonal participation and experience the grace it offers.

The very word Advent is derived from the Latin words, ad-venio or adventus, which both signify a coming. This liturgical season in the Church has birthed many customs in Catholic practice and life. These customs, if understood and properly embraced, give birth to a pattern of life, a culture, which can help to form a framework for living our daily lives. 

The celebration of Advent has become a significant part of the pattern of faith, culture and worship that is Catholic Christianity. It is also practiced within some of the Communities, confessions and traditions that sprung from the Protestant Reformation. Interestingly, it is now being re-embraced in some of the communities that had once rejected it.

Over the next four weeks preceding the great celebration of the Nativity of the Lord Jesus, (Christ-Mass), Christians are invited to prepare, to get ready, to make a place for the Lord in our lives and in our homes and to anticipate His coming.

This liturgical practice places us in the heart of a Church that stretches back two thousand years and forward toward the final coming of the Risen Lord. However, like so many treasures in the Church, it must first be discovered, embraced and lived, in order to bear fruit in our life.

As a Deacon of the Church, I will join with priests and Bishops in wearing lavender vestments when I serve at the altar. Lavender is a color that connotes both repentance, and expectation. These two experiences, a call to repentance and an invitation to joyful expectation, reveal the spirit of this Liturgical season.

Advent is a time to get ready and to build up the hope within our hearts for the promised coming of Jesus Christ! We do this by repenting of our sin, renouncing our wrong choices, and emptying ourselves of ourselves so that He can come and take up His Residence within us - and within the Church, which is His Body.

We receive an extended invitation, through the cycle of readings, prayers - and our willing and free participation in them - to make the choice to rid our lives of the of the clutter of daily idolatry and renounce the self love that can so easily squeeze God's grace out of our lives

Every year, Catholic Christians repeat together-experientially- through our liturgy (which in its Greek origin meant means the public work of worship), the pattern of the Christian life. We walk through the great events of Christian history in order to inculcate these mysteries of the Christian faith into our nitty-gritty lives in the real world.

We build a way -a pattern- of daily Christian living with customs, practices, and celebrations intended to enrich the encounter with the Risen Lord that is Christianity. During Advent, the Church, as a mother, calls us all to get ready, to clean the house, to set special times aside, so that we will be ready for all of His comings!

The Biblical texts that we will hear at Holy Mass will be filled with the great figures, such as John the Baptizer and Mary the Mother of the Lord, who are examples for each one if us. They embody the call to say Yes to the Lord and prepare the way for all who live between the first and the final coming of Jesus. These Old and New Testament passages will be beautifully juxtaposed in every liturgy and in our formal prayer (The Liturgy of the Hours) in order to point to -and expound upon- all the comings of the Lord.

The faithful will be invited to experience the extraordinary graces found in this full smorgasbord of sacramental and liturgical services. However, ultimately, it will still come down to each person, and each family, accepting the invitation to prepare for the coming of the Lord. God always invites. Will we respond?

When I was a young man, I read a newspaper article in an airport in which a priest wrote that Catholicism was what he called religion for the long haul. I have come to see the truth of that assertion so much more as the years have passed in my own life. I know that some other Christians see practices as Advent as empty ritual; and perhaps for some, that is what they have become. But not or me.

Celebrating Advent, indeed celebrating all the seasons of the Church year, are continual calls back to living faith, repentance, and a renewed relationship with the Lord - to the things that really matter. The ritual of the Catholic way of life provides a form into which the freshness of the Spirit can be poured again and again. I remember an old Pentecostal minister once telling me when I was twenty one years old "Son, we get filled with the Spirit, but then we leak". So we do. We need to be re-filled with the Holy Spirit.

The familiar patterns and practices of Catholic faith, life and worship also present an opportunity for shaping family life, developing customs and practicing family piety, all of which can help us to assimilate the beauty and truth revealed in the comings of the Lord. They invite us to break from the monotony of daily life in order to participate in something bigger than ourselves. They connect us to the One who always comes to those who are prepared. They are, as we used to say more often in Catholic circles, occasions of grace.

However, they must be chosen in faith and practiced in love. They must spring from the reservoir of a true belief in the Risen Lord Jesus Christ. We need to hear this clarion call to prepare the way for the Lord which is the very message of Advent. The liturgical seasons can become holy seasons for us, if they put us more deeply in touch with the One who is the source of all holiness, Jesus Christ.

Human beings are going to mark time. We will mark it either with the ordinary stuff of ordinary life or we will mark it as well with the extraordinary things of an extraordinary God, who became one of us so that we could fully participate in the eternal embrace of His Trinitarian communion.

When I am asked by other Christians why Catholics celebrate Advent  I answer quite simply. I tell them it is a gift from God - and all gifts from God are well worth opening. Of course, God has no need of our special seasons, but we do. Advent, like the entire Liturgical year, can unfold as a road, a way, a path for the Christian life and a deepening of the Christian vocation. When we accept His invitation. In its, Jesus comes, sanctifies and transforms our ordinary into the extraordinary, by grace.

Jesus Christ has been raised. We are called to live in the light of that truth and illumine the world through an expressed pattern of life which can help others find their way home. We are to become like the candles we will light over these few weeks. We live in an intermediate time between the first and the second comings of Jesus Christ. We are changed through the Paschal Mystery. Through the waters of the second birth of baptism, we have been enlisted and empowered to prepare ourselves - and the world- for His coming.Advent is our calling, we are a people who prepare the Way.

One of my favorite readings in the Liturgy of the Hours during this Advent Season is taken from an Advent homily given by a Franciscan friar in the early part of the second millennium named Bernard of Clairvaux. I conclude with his inspiring words:

We know that there are three comings of the Lord. The third lies between the other two. It is invisible while the other two are visible. In the first coming He was seen on earth, dwelling among men; . in the final coming \"all flesh will see the salvation of our God and they will look upon Him whom they have pierced\". The intermediate coming is a hidden one; in it only the elect see the Lord within their own selves, and they are saved.

In His first coming our Lord came in our flesh and our weakness; in this middle coming He comes in Spirit and in power; in the final coming he will be seen in glory and in majesty. Because this coming lies between the other two, it is like a road on which we travel from the first coming to the last.

Let us travel that road together. Let us begin our Advent Journey of faith.

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