Many people in the culture around us have the notion that the Christmas season is the time frame between Thanksgiving and Christmas. That might be true from a retail commercial point of view, but it is not true from the perspective of the Christian faith. The real Christmas season actually begins on Christmas Eve, December 24, and lasts through the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, which will take place on Monday, January 9, 2017.
The word “Advent” comes from the Latin word
, which refers to arrival, entry, or coming. The one who is coming is Jesus Christ. In the season of Advent we are focusing on three different comings of Christ — in history, in mystery, and in majesty. These take place in the past, the present, and the future.
The past event of the coming of Christ in history took place with Jesus’ birth from the Virgin Mary more than 2,000 years ago in Bethlehem. This is what we commemorate with the Solemnity of Christmas on December 25; thus, Advent is a time of preparation for the celebration of his birth. The future event of the coming of Christ will be when he returns in majesty at the end of time, when he comes in glory to bring the Kingdom of God to its fulfillment.
In Matthew 24:42, Jesus says, “Stay awake, for you do not know on which day your Lord will come.” Advent reminds us to be alert and vigilant at all times for the final return of Christ. As people of faith, the proper attitude when we consider the final coming of Christ at the end of time is not panic, but rather a spirit of joyful anticipation and reconciliation. If we’re living in a solid relationship with God, there will be no need to shudder in fear or run and scream. St. Augustine says, “If we love our sins more than we love Christ, we will fear his coming. If we love Christ more than we love our sins, we will rejoice at his coming.”
The third way we focus on the coming of Christ in Advent is the present. He comes to us in mystery every day, in the Sacraments of the Church, in the Scriptures, and in our neighbor in need. He is present to us here and now, speaking to us, nourishing us, molding and shaping us, challenging us, and healing us. When we serve the needs of those around us by carrying out the works of mercy, we are responding to the coming of Christ under the disguise of our neighbor in need.
The past coming of Christ and the future coming of Christ are like the two ends of a bridge. The bridge that stretches across them is the present coming of Christ. Every day we walk that bridge, seeking to act with justice and love in everything we do. Advent is a time to watch attentively for his presence in the concrete experiences of life, and to commit ourselves to bringing his presence into our world.
I would like to invite you to live Advent in a new way this year. Put on your thinking cap and consider some different ways to make this season come alive, and to discover the presence of Christ every day. Here are just a few suggestions to consider:
With the custom of the Nativity scene or crèche, prepare a place to receive the baby Jesus at Christmas. Start the Advent season with the manger empty, and don’t put the figure of Jesus in the scene until Christmas. There is a beautiful custom that began in France, where a few strands of hay or straw are placed in the manger for each good action or act of kindness done during Advent, in order to prepare a soft and welcoming place where Jesus will lie.
Prepare a place for Jesus in your heart by making a good sacramental Confession. In this way you will be clearing away the trash of your sins that blocks him from entering more fully into your life. A list of the special Advent Penance Services offered throughout the Diocese of San Angelo can be found on Pg. 4 of this
, on the diocesan website at
. Feel free to attend any one of these services, whether at your own parish or elsewhere, depending on your schedule.
If you are sending Christmas cards, think of the message in your cards, and the Christian meaning of the feast, and try to let your cards reflect the importance of Jesus, not just Rudolph, Santa, or the elves. With every Christmas card you write and every Christmas message you send electronically, say a prayer for the recipient.
I highly recommend the use of an Advent wreath in homes and parishes. This custom began in the 16th century in Germany, and it eventually spread throughout the world. The rich symbolism of this wreath helps to teach about the spiritual meaning of the Advent season. The base of the wreath is a circle of evergreen, which symbolizes the eternal life of God in Christ. Green is a symbol of life, and the circular shape represents eternity, for the line of a circle has no beginning or end. Advent celebrates the fact that Christ, who lives in eternity, makes himself present in our human history. On the wreath are found four candles, which proclaim that Christ is the light of the world. The four candles represent the many generations of human beings who lived before the birth of Christ, who were waiting for the arrival of the Messiah. The number of candles lighted each week corresponds to the number of the current week of Advent. Beginning with each of the four Sundays of Advent, an additional candle is lit, until all four are lit during the Fourth Week of Advent. Thus, with each successive week of the season, the light increases, pushing out the darkness. Jesus Christ is the light who comes into the darkness of our world in order to conquer that darkness.
Most commonly, there are three purple candles and one rose candle. The purple color symbolizes repentance from sin as well as the royalty of Christ our King. The purple candles are added in each of the weeks one, two, and four, while the rose candle is added in week three. Rose is a symbol of joy. The Third Sunday of Advent is traditionally known as Gaudete Sunday, which is a celebration of joyful expectation, since we have arrived at the midpoint of Advent, when the time of preparation is now half over and we are close to Christmas.
It is also acceptable for an Advent wreath to use four white candles instead of the purple and rose candles, especially in those cases when purple and rose candles cannot be found. Four purple candles may also be used.
For those who are looking for prayers to use with the Advent wreath at home, an example can be found on the Diocese of San Angelo web site. More samples can be found in Catholic prayer books, at Catholic stores, and on the Internet.
This Advent, let us all be conscious of the three comings of Christ, and make room in our hearts for his arrival – in history, in mystery, and in majesty.