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Why Celebrate Advent?

This coming Sunday is the First Sunday of Advent. Many bring out the advent candles out of storage and set them in a wreath. Over these few weeks preceding Christmas, we will gather, pray and sing together- inviting the coming of the Lord into our lives, our homes, our Churches - and into the world which God still loves so much, that He continues to send His Only Begotten Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. (John 3:16)

Photo credit: Max Beck

Photo credit: Max Beck

Highlights

Jesus Christ is not just a memory to the Christian who has living faith. He is alive in our midst and living His Life in and through His Mystical Body, the Church, of which we are members. The redemptive mission of the Lord Jesus continues until He returns.

As Christians, we are invited into the heart of that great Adventure. The same root word from which we derive the word Advent is also the root of the word Adventure. The Christian life, vocation and mission is meant to be an adventure. Advent is not some rote, dead custom from the past. Rather, when it is embraced by Christians who are alive in Jesus Christ, it is a gift.
 
Who needs Advent? I do.
 
Jesus is alive, ministering in our midst. He is the Head of the Body, His Church, and as St Augustine proclaimed in a sermon, ‽the body as a unity cannot be separated from the head."
 
The word "Advent" is from Latin words, ad-venio or adventus. They both signify a coming. It is a season in the Church which has birthed customs and practices. However, for those practices to bear fruit, they must be filled with and fueled by living faith.
 
When they are, they provide a pattern that moves us forward in the lifelong process of continual conversion. We are invited to begin again and again and again. (2 Cor. 5:17)
 
This promise of a new beginning is a message Christians can bring to this age which is lost, staggering in existential sadness. The Advent candles we light symbolize Jesus Christ. He is the True Light which can dispel the dreariness of an age which has lost hope.
 
The message we should proclaim, in word and lifestyle, is that Lord is always coming, for those who are looking for Him. One of my favorite readings during this season is taken from an Advent homily given by St. Bernard of Clairveaux. His insight unveils a framework for understanding the Advent season. He reminds us of ALL the Lord's comings. He then situates us where we live our daily lives, on the road of continual conversion:
 
"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".
 
He continued, ‽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." (St. Bernard of Clairveaux)
 
Liturgical seasons and their practices present an opportunity for shaping family life and developing customs which can help us to assimilate the beauty and truth revealed in the comings of the Lord. They help to create a Christian culture, within homes and beyond. They can also become a witness of His living presence to a world which is waiting to be born again. 
 
They can help us to break from the monotony of a secularized life and participate in something bigger than ourselves. They can connect us to the One who always comes - to those who make the ongoing choice to invite Him in.
 
Beginning the liturgical year on the first Sunday of Advent has not always been the custom. 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 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 lens through which Christians viewed 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 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 underwent development.
 
Indeed, they continue to undergo proper development in our own day as the Church exhorts and guides the faithful to live out the full implications of the Christian Mysteries and to carry forward in time the ongoing work of Jesus Christ. 
 
However, the practice of preparing for the coming of the Lord by living as though he is always coming goes back to the very beginnings of the Church. The Aramaic word ‽Maranatha", so prevalent in the worship of the early Christians, (See, the Book of Revelations 22:20) reveals a living Church, awaiting the comings of the Risen Lord Jesus.
 
Through the history of the Western Church the season of Advent has become a significant part of the pattern of life, faith, culture and worship that keeps that anticipation alive within the Christian community. Practices such as Liturgical seasons, with their colors, smells and special readings, need not become rote. Rather, they can help to engage the whole person, body, soul and Spirit, into the dynamic message which is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 
 
During the weeks which precede the Nativity of the Lord Jesus, ("Christ-Mass"), Christians (Catholics and others) are invited by the Church to prepare, to get ready, to make a place for the Lord in our lives and in our homes, to anticipate His coming(s).
 
We will sing the ever-familiar hymn "O Come, O Come Emmanuel". The tune will be hummed incessantly and do what music does when it is repeated, get down deep into our subconscious. It may even seem "annoying"- as repetitious music can. However, even that annoyance gets to the root of granular Christianity. Real believers understand that the Incarnation of Jesus Christ has changed everything and everyone - and we need to be continually reminded of that fact.
 
The liturgical air will be filled with the beautiful "O Antiphons", taken from the Old Testament Hebrew Scriptures in the Prophetic and Wisdom Books. They will be sung as a part of the formal Liturgy of the Hours beginning seven days before the Vigil of Christmas. I will wear lavender vestments when I serve alongside of the priest at the altar, a color that connotes both repentance, and expectation. 
 
Advent is a time to "get ready" for the promised coming of Jesus Christ! We do so by repenting of our sin and renouncing our wrong choices. We empty ourselves of the clutter of our daily idolatry and renounce the disordered self-love that can squeeze God's grace out of our lives.
 
It is a reminder of the road along which we walk this Christian life and vocation. Bernard was right. We now live in that intermediate time between the first and the second comings. We are to be changed by the first and to prepare ourselves- and the world in which we live- for the second.
Jesus the Lord continues to come to all those who make themselves ready.
 
Happy Advent

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