What’s up with Advent?

by Fr. Dan Borlik, CM
Advent Candles in the snow with evergreen branches red berries

When you get a chance, ask around, “What do you like most about Advent?”  You may be pleasantly surprised – I did ask and was! There were instant responses – and lots of variety!  “It’s those Advent Calendars!” 

“ I just LOVE those little chocolates behind each day’s door!”  

“Lighting Advent Wreath with my family…”  

“It’s that special liturgical music and hymns, old and new, that only occurs during Advent!”  

“It’s so beautiful and moving!”

As for me, my favorites always starts with great memories as a kid growing up in Texas with my brother and my three sisters. We each had our own bedroom “nativity set” – crèche. Those makeshift caves or barns maybe seemed too crowded with plaster or plastic animals, cars and trucks, toys surrounding Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus, but it was a lovely and enjoyable way to prepare for Christmas!

For me, Advent seems less a season for prayer and penance, like Lent. It is more of a time for hope, joy, and fun; a special time of prayer and preparation before the great feast of Christmas, for mine and for families everywhere. Advent prayer is likely to take the form of quiet contemplation or joyful carols. 

We Catholic/Christians are guided by our “liturgical year” –a repeating cycle of public prayer and action linked together by a few “hinge-events”:  Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, his Resurrection in Jerusalem, his Ascension 40 days later and Pentecost (the gift of God’s Holy Spirit) 10 days after that. 

No one knows when Advent first came into practice; certainly not before the early Christian church began to honor and celebrate Christmas, around 380 A.D. In some places, Advent lasted for five Sundays, but eventually four Sundays became common. Initially, the time focused on preparing for the Second Coming, with prayer, penance, and fasting. But, perhaps inspired by the hopeful joy expressed in the prophetic readings they had chosen, Advent became our time to pay attention to God’s endless (and undeserved!) love for us. This love becomes clear in the Scriptures from various prophets, particularly Isaiah, to a people who know their own sin but have suffered greatly too. God means to save us no matter what our failings, and we can only seek ways to receive, to welcome this God into our hearts during our time. Much of Advent simply encourages us to contemplate God’s desire to relate with us as fully human, in the child Jesus.

So, each calendar year, these weeks come to us as a “time of grace,” meaning a real opportunity. Our chance to counter and heal any lingering religious instincts, born perhaps of our own fears and self-disillusion, to imagine God as some cold authority, a demanding, distant judge. During these four weeks of Advent– drawn from our tradition’s prayers, chants, and time-honored images – our God is revealed as one of us — a baby!  A baby who needs our love and care offers nothing but love and only wants us in his life.  What could be better than that?

Blessings and joy to you during this season!