When the “holiday season” kicks off each year—which used to happen around late November, although it now seems to be much earlier—much of the world makes a mad dash toward December 25. Along with ordinary tasks, the days are filled with decorating, buying, celebrating, buying, fretting, buying, baking, buying—in search of some nostalgic, yet vague sense of hope that, all too often, fails to satisfy and is kicked to the curb on Dec. 26.
By contrast, Christians (in theory, at least) profess this period as Advent (from the Latin term adventus, or coming).
Whose coming do we await? In faith, hope, and love, we await the coming of Christ—God among us—who comes to save humanity from the state that it has itself rendered. Jesus has come once to take on our humanity and redeem it. He will come again to fulfill God’s promise and take all things to himself. And he is coming now, at this very moment—whatever season it is. Eternity will emerge from how we respond daily to God’s eternal presence in the mystical Body of Christ.
Eternity will be what each of us makes of today.
While it’s fine to engage in a little holiday cheer when the time comes, we do well to remember that Advent calls for a joyful anticipation of the Kingdom of God—yesterday, today, and forever. We must recall that the celebration of Christmas (which actually begins Dec. 25 and runs for many days thereafter) evokes that mystical event when God became man in the person of Jesus, whose name in Hebrew means “God saves.” That should indeed bring us great joy—but not the fleeting, superficial, artificial joy so often peddled in the month of December. It is a daily joy tempered by the reality of the crucifixion, a wonderful paradox that gives rise to rejoicing with the psalmist: Lord, “there is forgiveness with you, so that you may be revered” (130:4).
Advent and Christmas, then, are solemn occasions steeped in true, everlasting joy as we await throughout all our days the full coming of the Kingdom of God. As author Alice Camille points out in her booklet Waiting for God: The Grace of Advent, there is more to it than a cute baby in a manger. It’s serious business. Advent, she says, is a state of spiritual emergency.
Advent involves a different type of urgency than the festal fretting that so often surrounds us before Christmas even begins. We are reminded of this throughout the year at each Mass after the Lord’s Prayer, when the priest says, “Deliver us, Lord, we pray, from every evil, graciously grant peace in our days, that by the help of your mercy, we may be always free from sin and safe from all distress, as we await the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.”
For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours now and forever.
From the Abbey Press book
Grace in the Wilderness, ©2013