Preparing for the Coming of Our Savior Jesus Christ
As November draws to a close and we begin a new liturgical year, we enter into the season of Advent. The name of this special time comes from the Latin word adventus, meaning “coming.”
The Church has celebrated this season since ancient times, although the number of days has varied over the centuries. In the Middle Ages, Advent was sometimes observed for only nine days, representing the nine months that the Word made flesh was in Mary’s womb. Today, we celebrate Advent over a period of four Sundays, with some people praying a novena those last nine days before Christmas.
However long the season, Advent is a time of preparation, when we look to the past, the present and the future. The scriptures proclaimed at Mass convey a sense of deep longing. Like people did for centuries and millennia before the birth of Christ, we await the coming of the Savior, a promise fulfilled at Christ’s Mass, that is, Christmas, the Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord. Advent is also a time of expectation for the future, when we await the second coming of Jesus and his return in glory. But it is also a time of living in the present moment, as we seek to build up and manifest Jesus’ kingdom of love and hope in our everyday lives and in our world today.
Rather than being immersed in a time of anxiety during the “Christmas shopping season,” we see Advent as a season of confident, peaceful waiting. There is no need for rushing around, but neither do we wait passively. We are called to be active and vigilant in anticipation.
Prominent in Advent is Christ’s herald, John the Baptist, who prepares the way of the Lord. Hearing this call, we prepare ourselves – it is a time of purification as we intensify our expectation for both Christ’s birth and the future when the King will return in glory and wipe away every tear and death shall be no more.
The earliest Christians understood the importance of this season of awaiting the coming of Jesus. In the oldest prayers of the Mass, the people prayed, “Thy kingdom come!” and they cried out in the Aramaic language spoken by Jesus and the apostles, “Marana tha,” words meaning “Come, Lord!” During Advent, we pray antiphons with words that we know well from the hymn, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” words that give hope to a world “that mourns in lonely exile here, until the Son of God appear.”
With that mindset, we can, like the shepherds, look to the horizon, and seek Christ’s light that can illumine our hearts and our lives. The king has come, and his kingdom is his presence in the world. With every ordinary action of every Christian – every prayer, work, joy and suffering – the kingdom comes. That is how we live between the first coming of Christ and the second. We live with an expectation, confidence and joy that we magnify as a Church as we prepare to receive Emmanuel, God-with-us, who left heaven to spend his days with us.
Pointing toward Christmas, when the Lord made a gift of himself to us, Advent inspires us also to give. Later this week, I will discuss the archdiocese’s annual “Find the Perfect Gift” campaign, which invites us, in the midst of all the commercialism in our culture, to reflect upon the true meaning of Christmas and how we all might share that perfect gift of Jesus with others.
May this Advent season be a time of hope and joy for you and your loved ones.
This blog post is adapted from the book that Mike Aquilina and I wrote, “The Feasts: How the Church Year Forms Us as Catholics” (2014).