Something strange happened this year: I started looking forward to Advent. Not just Christmas, though I certainly do look forward to that, but to Advent. I don’t think that’s ever happened before.
It wasn’t until I started doing the Jesse Tree with my children that I really started to “get” Advent. Until then, I had a tenuous grasp on the idea of it: waiting for Jesus, the Babe in the Manger, preparing a place in my heart for him… I’d heard this all my life, but never understood exactly what it meant.
But when I started using the Jesse Tree, and we started doing Bible readings each evening as a family, I started to get a glimmer of what Advent means. And our pastor’s homily this past weekend drove it all home for me. To really understand what this season of waiting means, you need to go back much farther than a night in Bethlehem 2000 years ago. You need to go back to the Fall.
Yes, to Adam and Eve and their expulsion from the Garden.
The day God sent them out of the Garden and into the world, He promised Adam and Eve that some day, He would send a Savior to them to set the world right again. Yes, they’d messed up. Yes, they needed to leave the comfort of the Garden. And, yes, the entire world was hurt by their action of disobedience.
But some day, a Savior would come to make things right again. Some day, the world would start to heal.
And that’s when the waiting began.
For more than 4000 years, mankind waited for the promised Savior — and most of mankind forgot that God was even going to send someone at all. In fact, a great deal of the world had forgotten God completely, worshipping false gods instead. But a small group of people, chosen by God to be His own special possession, remembered and waited. They weren’t very good at waiting, and when they lost their way, God often let them experience the consequences of their sinful actions. Most of the nation of Israel was sent into exile, and when they were permitted to return to the land, there was only a small remnant of the great Chosen Nation left to return home.
And still, that remnant waited.
It’s hard for us to wait for Christmas. Our culture, too, has a hard time waiting and remembering God. One local radio station in my area has been playing Christmas music since early November! People are all abuzz about it now being “Christmas Season,” now that Thanksgiving is over. The season of Advent is passed over by most of our Western culture — including most Christians, who might even be completely unaware that it exists at all.
But those of us who do remember wait quietly for Christmas, for the coming of the Messiah. We light our candles, one week at a time and sing quiet songs of expectation at Lauds and Vespers and almost hold our breath as we wait for the Babe in the manger.
At Mass this weekend, when Father talked about this waiting, he pointed out that we don’t just talk about some future coming of Jesus, or even a past coming. We certainly celebrate the birth of our Savior each year, but Advent is about being ready for Him right here, right now. We don’t have the past any more — it’s gone. We don’t have the future — it hasn’t happened yet (and is not guaranteed). We only have this moment that we are in: the present moment. When Jesus comes, it won’t be in our past and it won’t be in our future.
When Jesus comes — and He comes for each and every one of us, eventually — He will come in the present moment. And it’s our job to be awake when He does. Not necessarily physically awake, but spiritually so. We must live our lives as ones who are ready to meet Jesus at any moment.
We must live in a perpetual Advent.
Advent isn’t just a time when we remember that Jesus came as a tiny Baby once upon a time. It’s not just a time to look forward to decorating and lights and presents under the tree. It’s not just a time to watch all of our favorite Christmas specials.
Advent is when we remind ourselves that we are supposed to be always at-the-ready for when the Master returns. We must live our lives in anticipation for the coming of the Savior, when everyone will see and every knee will bend and every tongue proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord!
The Collect for the First Sunday of Advent is one of my favorite of the whole year, and it sums up the entire idea of Advent and our task during these four weeks:
Grant your faithful, we pray, almighty God,
the resolve to run forth to meet Your Christ
with righteous deeds at His coming,
so that, gathered at His right hand,
they may be worthy to possess the heavenly Kingdom.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
Who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, forever and ever. Amen.
This world is a dark place sometimes, and watching the news can often throw us into despair. The Advent wreath is our reminder that there is a Light that won’t be extinguished. As we light each candle and our Advent wreath shines a little brighter each week, remember that some day, the Light of the World will come and set it all right, for good.
And we can be ready for Him when he comes.