The Christian season of preparation for the Nativity of Christ at Christmas marks the beginning of the liturgical year in Western Christianity. The name was adopted from Latin adventus “coming; arrival.” This year, Advent starts this Sunday, November 27.
By Fenwick Chaplain Fr. Christopher Johnson, O.P.
Happy Advent! Unfortunately, many people skip over this great season of prayer and preparation in a rush to maximize their enjoyment of the excitement of holiday parties, Christmas carols, Santa Claus, sweets and the busy-ness of shopping.
Advent is the great gift that the Church gives us as we have the opportunity to begin anew with a new liturgical year. We begin this new year with the challenge of preparing for the great mystery of God entering into humanity. The dawning of a new liturgical year with Advent preempts the arrival of a new calendar year and is an opportunity to reflect back on the past year of our life and what went not so well, and to consider what needs to change in our lives — then taking steps to bring about these changes. By doing so, we are creating room in our lives to allow the incarnation to take place in our own lives.
How should we approach Advent?
Once we recognize that this season is a call to prepare our hearts for God’s entrance into the world, we can take seriously the call to accept the invitation to welcome God into our lives. In accepting this invitation to allow God into our lives, we can renew our relationship with Christ with a spirit of quiet longing. To allow for a spirit of quiet longing to be a reality in our lives, we are called to discipline ourselves to not rush into the hectic milieu of holiday parties, Santa Claus, Christmas lights and Christmas music. We are called to rather delay that satisfaction and allow for a build up of the true desire for Christmas. Even if our intentions are mixed, choosing to delay the celebration of Christmas until the 24th creates a place for quiet in our lives. In this quiet, we have a space to consider the purpose of Christmas and its reminder of the threefold coming of Christ:
- The historic coming of the Child Jesus long ago in Bethlehem.
- The future coming of Christ at the end of time.
- The presence of Christ in our world now, and His desire to truly make a dwelling in our hearts.
How can we enter more fully into Advent this year?
I invite you to consider what it means for Christ to come at Christmas, at the end of time, and in the present moment. We can begin with the words of Matthew’s Gospel for the first Sunday of Advent, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come. While we cannot know the exact hour of Jesus’ return at the end of time, we can make the choice to start our preparations … now. Advent provides us with an opportunity to recall that, as Christians, our lives are to be directed to the following of Christ.
Following Christ means to seek to imitate the humility, love and generosity of Our Lord who came to give His life for us, and who suffered, died and rose defeating sin and death.
It is never too late to begin anew. What better time than now, at the start of a new Church year? We can begin the year and the process of conversion firstly by going to confession and admitting our sins and failures. We can recall those times we ignored God’s presence in our lives, were inconsiderate of others, chose to occupy ourselves with busy-ness, noise and directions rather than taking time for prayer, reflection and worship. The gift of God’s forgiveness and absolution frees us from the weight of our past sins and fills us with His graces, giving us the courage to begin anew.
Secondly, let us take the step of welcoming Christ into this newly opened space in our hearts. We can do this by striving, with God’s help, to live lives that are selfless, aimed at truly loving those around us and recognizing the presence of God within them. As we become filled with God’s love and grace, our hearts will freely pour out praise and thanksgiving to God for His goodness and generosity. We will then be truly changed as our hearts seek meaning and purpose not in possessions or in excessive busy-ness, food and drink, but rather in a friendship with God, a friendship that requires regular time of stillness and quiet.
This year, instead of occupying ourselves with Rudolph, Frosty and Mariah, perhaps we can take some quiet time for reflection, prayer and listening. We can embrace music this Advent, the proper music of Advent that is intended to direct us towards stillness, prayer and preparation. I invite you to explore Advent hymns, if you are not familiar with them. May taking time to reflect upon the words and music of Advent hymns help you develop new habits of prayer, allowing for the growth of our friendship with God.
Here are some of my own favorite Advent hymns, and I invite you to reflect on their lyrics:
Please note that, unfortunately, these are the best videos as far as containing lyrics and reasonable quality of performance that I could find.