(We very recently attended a day-long Advent recollection led by Fr. Tony de Castro, S.J. This article includes many of Fr. Tony’s shared thoughts during that recollection, which I have woven with my own reflections. I hope that these, together, will create a tapestry, to provide a backdrop for your own Advent ponderings. Have a Blessed Season! Annie Salvador)
ADVENT, the Season which begins on the Sunday following right after the feast of Christ the King, begins the Liturgical Year of the Catholic Church. Next to the Lenten Season, it is the most important time for Christians. Of course, the Season of Advent heralds the celebration of Christmas, which we all enjoy. Ironically however, the modern-day commercialization of Christmas has become one of the worldly temptations which wrest us away from the real meaning of Advent. Indeed, our inordinate focus on the festivities, merry-making and gift-giving now so strongly associated with Christmas has served to overshadow the entire Season of Advent.
Advent is so much more than Christmas. It is a time for commemorating Love, come to Earth to free us from sin. It is a time of expectation and anticipation; a yearning for deliverance; a preparation for the Lord’s coming. If we really think about it – “the Lord’s coming” is a rather scary idea, because it means the Last Day, the end of the world as we know it. Upon still deeper thought, the coming of the Lord actually presents us with a very curious bundle of realities. On one hand, He has come before, on that very first Christmas when the Baby Jesus was born to Mary in Bethlehem. On the other hand, Jesus Himself has said it time and again: He shall come again to judge the world. Yet – and this is a third hand still – especially to us who are in the Christian renewal, He comes to us, everyday, in many forms and circumstances!
All the same, because the Season of Advent is so strongly dominated by themes of hope and anticipation, let us explore what it can mean to “prepare for the coming of the Lord.”
When a special, esteemed guest is expected, part of our normal preparations would be to clean the house, to arrange a meal, to set up a welcome, to prime ourselves for the interaction. When the Season of Advent comes around, indeed, we engage in a round of busyness. We decorate our homes as befits the occasion, be it with a simple parol or some eye-popping bigger-than-life extravaganza of Santas and reindeer and Christmas villages and snow. For the Filipino home, wherever on the globe that might be, the Belen is a staple. And then there is the shopping. There is no need to describe that frenzy – I’m sure we all know, first-hand, how that goes.
Yet, these are all external preparations. Trappings. Frills. What of the inside? We are also encouraged to receive the Sacraments, especially those of Reconciliation and Communion, and to attend Holy Mass. The Filipino custom of the Simbang Gabi is unique in the world, and it clearly marks this internal preparatory anticipation. The Season also leads us to think of those we love, both near and far. Thus we have reunions, and in addition to presents, we write messages of love and hope, family news and good wishes. It seems that during the Season, everyone becomes a tad nicer all around!
One very poignant and apropos image for Advent is that of a pregnant woman. Surprised? Think about it: with an expectant mother, everyone knows for sure that an event – the baby’s birth – is forthcoming, yet no one knows for sure exactly when that will be. It is interesting that a pregnant woman doesn’t “just sit there” waiting for the time of birth. She makes her waiting useful: she buys baby clothes and other paraphernalia, gets a baby cot, even a nursery perhaps, all set up. Within the flurry of what we commonly call the nesting instinct, an expectant mother knows with certainty that her life is about to change, and she braces for it.
The coming of the Lord – whether as we commemorate that first Christmas, or hope for the Day of Judgment, or understand that God makes visitations in our daily lives – is indeed a sure and ever-present reality for us who believe. And just as surely, not one of us can possible know when and in what form that occurred, or occurs, or shall occur. This year, as we prepare, may I present a list of questions which, given a little time and attention, may move us inward, towards emotions and convictions we carry with us and bring into all our interactions. Let me invite you a little closer into the core, where our true encounters with the Lord take place.
What is the significance of the Season of Advent in my faith life? Am I comfortable with waiting, when I am not in control over what is about to happen, when I sometimes even do not know what is to happen? How accepting am I, of things I did not engineer myself, of things someone else has preferred? As a parent, as an adult who is getting on in years, as an individual in the face of other individuals, how well do I let go? Am I open to being surprised, am I able to experience wonder, and joy, and gratitude, however circumstances turn out?
As I behold my present, what is it that I am most joyful about? What exactly is it that I am anticipating at this time in my life? On the contrary, what is it that I am hoping, praying, pleading, would not happen? When I consider my loftiest hopes and my deepest fears, how well do I see that they are likely closely bound to each other? What are my attitudes towards the inevitable: towards ageing, towards children who are growing up and moving into tomorrow, towards change, towards loss? How willing am I to acknowledge? To accept? To embrace?
Seeking self-knowledge is a good reflection target, this Season and all other seasons. Part of our cooperation with the Holy Spirit’s work is to know ourselves better, in order to develop deeper insights about ourselves, which, in turn, can lead us to action towards positive change. This is perhaps the truth behind Socrates’ declaration “The unexamined life is not worth living and the unlived life is not worth examining.”
Additionally, as much as Advent is our time for preparing to receive Christ’s redemptive love anew, it is also our time to prepare to present God with our own love in return. Reflection in prayer, because it heightens our awareness of where we are in our spirituality, allows us to hold that love, as it were, and giftwrap it for the Lord.
Have a joyful, fruitful Advent. ‘Tis the Season. Let us behold Truth, come to free us. Let us contemplate Life, here and beyond. Let us celebrate Love, for that is God.