“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord! Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!” (Isaiah 40: 3)
Once again, we mark the arrival of the liturgical season of Advent. The Lord is coming! It is time to prepare! Into our wonderfully beautiful yet very wounded world comes Emmanuel, God-with-us. In a sense we should be wishing one another a “Happy New Year” as we begin a new liturgical cycle of celebrating and meditating on the Life of Christ. The course of a liturgical year exposes us to the various aspects of the Paschal Mystery in the beautiful, orderly way. It always begins with the First Sunday in Advent.
Advent is the liturgical season of preparation leading up to Christmas. The word advent is derived from the Latin word adventus, which means “coming.” During Advent we anticipate the coming of Jesus as a baby. It’s a penitential time full of reflection, excitement, and hope as we prepare to celebrate his birth. This holy season trumpets God’s extravagant love for us, a love beyond reckoning.
There are two important aspects of the Advent season: waiting with expectation and preparing to receive the Lord. Our heightened sense of waiting is related to our waiting for Christ’s Second Coming while we also wait for the celebration of Christ’s birth at Christmas. While we wait, we also prepare. When we anticipate welcoming significant guests to our home, we prepare the environment to be orderly and comfortable. We put away the clutter, dust the furniture, clean the floors and other such activities so that our guests might experience a good welcome upon their arrival. Similarly, the prophetic words of Isaiah call for a similar process of preparation. To prepare the way for the Lord, we are called upon to remove all the obstacles that might hinder or delay the Lord’s arrival. All of the “crooked ways” in our lives and in the life of our society need to be straightened out. Mountains and hills should be brought low and valleys are to be filled in so that a smooth and direct highway to our hearts and homes is created.
For those of us who are experiencing the feeling that this year is literally “flying by,” Advent will not do anything to change that feeling. Advent this year happens to be the shortest Advent season possible. Sunday, December 3, 2023 marks the first of the four Sundays of Advent on the Church’s Liturgical Calendar. Sunday, December 24, 2023 is the fourth Sunday of Advent. It also happens to be Christmas Eve. This year, the fourth week of Advent is less than a day long. Christmas Eve Masses begin around 4 pm that day.
Advent usually comes as a surprise in the frantic motion of our daily lives. Suddenly the Church encourages us to slow down, to refocus, to prepare for the coming of the Lord. We are called to let go of the frantic world of decorating, partying, gift giving and receiving, one very busy day running into the next. Advent offers us time to practice the art of “waiting in joyful hope” for the coming of our Savior. Waiting is one of life’s inevitabilities, but waiting with joyful hope is not. Joy is not feigned happiness waiting with clenched teeth; rather, it is one of the Fruits of the Holy Spirit. The Catholic Catechism teaches us: “Hope is the theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit.”
Hope is a gift given us at Baptism, but it must sometimes be retrieved from the jaws of despair. The qualities God gives us are always ours to use, but they are apt to remain pale little shoots of possibility unless we strengthen them by practice, practice, practice.
During Advent we recall the history of God’s people and reflect on how the prophecies and promises of the Old Testament were fulfilled in Christ. The liturgical color for Advent is purple, similar to that of Lent, since both are seasons that prepare us for great feast days. Advent also includes an element of penance in the sense of preparing, quieting, and disciplining our hearts for the full joy of Christmas. The Third Sunday of Advent is called Gaudete (Rejoice) Sunday, and it is common for the priest to wear rose colored vestments. On this Sunday we “Rejoice” since Christmas is very near.
“The final days of Advent, from December 17 to December 24, we focus on our preparation for the celebrations of the Nativity of our Lord at Christmas. In particular, the “O” Antiphons are sung during this period and have been by the Church since at least the eighth century. They are a magnificent theology that uses ancient biblical imagery drawn from the messianic hopes of the Old Testament to proclaim the coming of Christ as the fulfillment not only of Old Testament hopes, but of present ones as well. Advent devotions including the Advent wreath, remind us of the meaning of the season.” (USCCB, 2023)
Pope Francis says that, “Advent invites us to a commitment to vigilance, looking beyond ourselves, expanding our mind and heart in order to open ourselves up to the needs of people, of brothers and sisters, and to the desire for a new world.” – Pope Francis, Angelus, 2018
By Sister Janet Marie Flemming, OSB