Advent is a season of waiting in excited and hopeful preparation within the Catholic Church. The first Sunday of Advent, marks the beginning of the New Year within the Church. For many, the Advent season is marked with the frenzy of putting up Christmas decorations and finding the perfect gift. As children, we may have had Advent calendars where you opened a window every day and got a piece of chocolate. A piece of chocolate every day for 25 days is a very exciting prospect as a child, especially when you get to eat it before breakfast. Within the Church, however, Advent holds much more meaning than a piece of chocolate a day or Christmas decorations.
Advent comes from the Latin word ‘adventus’, meaning ‘coming’. During this season we are looking forward toward the coming of Christ. In some ways, it seems strange to put so much emphasis on looking forward to birth of Christ. This is an event that happened in the past, Christ came as a child nearly 2,000 years ago; He is not being re-born every year. We also are not celebrating His birthday in the terms of celebrating another year of life, we are celebrating His birth. So why is it that every year we dedicate an entire season to waiting in hope and anticipation for His coming when we know that He has already come to Earth?
The answer to this is really twofold. First, looking forward and waiting for His coming reminds us of the time before Jesus came to Earth. A time in which the Chosen People really were longing for His coming. While it is hard to fathom that people lived before the first coming of Jesus Christ, it is a reality. Consider the Jews fleeing the Egyptians, their prayers were different than ours in that they were praying for the first coming of Jesus. We are fortunate enough to live during a time in which we have already gotten to experience the first coming of Jesus and have the opportunity to experience His presence in the physical form every day in the Eucharist.
The second aspect is that we are always waiting in joyful expectation for the Second Coming of Jesus. We are fully aware that we do not know the time nor the place when Jesus will return to Earth. The season of Advent, which reminds us how the Jewish people waited for the first coming of Christ, reminds us that we must always be ready for the Second Coming. The Advent season is a perfect time to ask ourselves if we are prepared to meet Jesus face to face if He should decide to come again during our lifetime.
One tradition that has been handed down through the generations in my family is the preparation of the manger for Jesus’ birth. On the first Sunday of Advent, we set up a manger scene in our house, complete with all the characters minus the baby Jesus. Every day after dinner we gather together as a family and discuss what good deeds we have done for others. For every good deed, we got straw to put in the manger. Over the four weeks, the straw in the manger builds up. By the time Christmas comes, and as long as we have actually performed good deeds, the manger is warm for baby Jesus because of the straw. As little kids, this was a good way of getting us to think about preparing our hearts for Christmas and being able to see the results. This daily exercise of having to think through your day and question if you have performed any good ideas prompts you to remember what the Advent season is all about.
As we prepare for the coming of Christmas this year, let’s try not to forget the importance of Advent. It is through full participation in the Advent season that we are able to truly rejoice in the joy of Christmas.