Once again the Advent Season is here. Our churches will be draped in purple, our priests will wear purple vestments; the Advent Wreath will be blessed and lit. "Oh come, O come Emmanuel" will be sung when we begin our time of preparation for our Lord's coming.
Once again Advent is upon us and our lives will be swept up in a whirlwind of chaos; we will have to find that perfect present; we will attend any number of pre Christmas Parties. Our ears will be bombarded with Christmas songs everywhere we go as we begin to celebrate the birth of our Lord and Saviour.
Which of these images comes closest to our experience of Advent?
For most of us, the second scenario probably comes closest to reality. For most of us Advent is the time when we begin our early celebrations for Christmas rather than a spiritual preparation for Christmas. Really we don't need to celebrate Christmas so early because the Church gives us the Octave of Christmas, the Church's eight day celebration of Christmas. However, all too often, Advent becomes a time for all those pre Christmas celebrations so that no one has the energy left for the eight days of celebration when Christmas actually arrives. When that happens the distinctive purpose of the Advent Season can become lost and forgotten. Of course some of us will be having office parties and family events taking place before Christmas and it would be in poor taste not to participate. Yet, with some effort we can still retain the true meaning of Advent.
Advent is divided into two parts. For the first part, the emphasis is on Our Lord's second coming. Our Lord's first coming at His birth over two thousand years ago is recalled but his second coming is more heavily stressed! By recalling the first coming of Christ, the coming that we will joyfully celebrate at Christmas, we gain confidence that Christ has not abandoned us but will come again.
From the earliest days, followers of Christ have watched for the Lord's second coming. Will our preparations be all in vain? Our efforts would not be in vain if we realise that to prepare our hearts to welcome the Lord...we must learn to recognise His presence in the events of our daily lives. It is by recognising Him who continually comes to us in every aspect of our daily lives that we are drawn into deeper communion with Our Lord who will come again in Glory. May the light of Christ enable us to stay awake and to prepare this Advent for Christ's second coming. Our preparations will not be in vain as we prepare for Christ's coming in glory by drawing closer to Him as He comes to us in every moment of our lives, especially in the Most Holy Eucharist. Let us also prepare to celebrate His first coming. Let us get ready for the birth of the Christ-child, whose history changing birth allows us to abide with Him until He comes again in glory.
A good way to help us in our preparation has been the use of the Advent Wreath which is a circle having no beginning and no end. So we call to mind how our lives here and now, participate in the eternity of God's plan of salvation and how we hope to share in eternal life in the Kingdom of Heaven. The wreath is made of fresh plant material, because Christ came to give us new life through His passion, death and resurrection. Three candles are purple symbolising penance, preparation and sacrifice; the pink candle symbolises the same but highlights the third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday, when we rejoice because our preparation is now halfway finished. The light of each candle represents Christ who entered this world to scatter the darkness of evil and show us the right way. The progression of lighting candles shows our increasing readiness to meet with Our Lord. This tradition will help to keep us focussed on the true meaning of Christmas. In all, during Advent we should strive to fulfil the opening prayer of the Mass for the first Sunday of Advent...
Father in Heaven, increase our longing for Christ our Saviour and give us the strength to grow in love, that the dawn of His coming may find us rejoicing in His presence and welcoming the light of His truth. Amen.