Advent is perhaps my favorite season of the liturgical year. One reason is that I knew nothing of Advent while growing up as a Fundamentalist—there was Christmas and Easter, and really nothing else to mark any sort of sacred day or season (that would have been “Romanish” and “pagan”). The irony, I suppose, is that we, as Fundamentalists were quite obsessed with the End Times, readily seeking out signs of impending apocalypse in a world moving from one fatalistic sign of doom to the next. And Advent is a season intimately connected with eschatology, judgment, and apocalypse, even while it is also rooted in the Incarnation, joyful anticipation, and eternal hope. In that way it readily demonstrates the “eschatological tension” reflected upon by St. John Paul II in his final encyclical, Ecclesia de Eucharistia (2003), which delves deeply into the Eucharistic character of the Church and the Kingdom.
The reflections below were written in 2006, and have been lightly edited for this posting.
Preparing To Meet the Lord: Reflections on the Readings for Advent
An advent, of course, is a coming; the word means “to come to.” Advent anticipates the coming–or comings–of the Son of Man: in his Incarnation two thousand years ago, in his future return in glory, and in the mystery of the sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “When the Church celebrates the liturgy of Advent each year, she makes present this ancient expectancy of the Messiah, for by sharing in the long preparation for the Saviour’s first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desire for his second coming” (CCC 524). Simply put, Advent is about being prepared to meet Christ–not on our terms, but on His terms. By preparing us to meet the tiny Incarnate Word of God lying in a manger, Advent also directs our hearts and minds toward the return of that child as glorious King and Lord of all.
In a book of reflections titled Seek That Which Is Above, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger wrote that the purpose of Advent is “to awaken the most profound and basic emotional memory within us, namely, the memory of God who became a child. This is a healing memory; it brings hope.” Later, he states that Advent is also about shaking off spiritual slumber and sloth: “So Advent means getting up, being awake, emerging out of sleep and darkness.” In Advent of the Heart, a collection of sermons and prison writings, the priest and martyr Fr. Alfred Delp contemplates Advent from a similar perspective. “Advent,” he writes, “is a time for being deeply shaken, so that man will wake up to himself. … It is precisely in the severity of this awakening, in the helplessness of coming to consciousness, in the wretchedness of experiencing our limitations that the golden threads running between Heaven and earth during this season reach us; the threads that give the world a hint of the abundance to which it is called, the abundance of which it is capable.”
Advent is marked by anticipation, contemplation, joy, conversion, discernment, repentance, hope, faith, and–last but never least–charity. The readings for this Advent (cycle C) aptly reflect all of this, always within the context of historical events and realities involving men and women who face difficulties and struggles similar to those that confront us today. Here, then, are seven themes and/or persons who have stood out to me as I have studied and contemplated the readings for Sunday liturgies during this Advent season.
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