Advent is a time to put our faith at the forefront. It’s also a time perhaps in cold days to snuggle up next to the fire and imagine the Christ child snuggled in swaddling clothes in the manger. It’s a time of anticipation, of waiting for our King, of dreaming of the joy we will one day share with him.
But Advent looks backs in order to look forward. Celebration of the first coming of Christ in the stable at Bethlehem draws meaning and purpose from the hope and expectation of generations who yearned for his arrival and from our own generation that looks forward to his second coming. Christmas is not a sterile memorial of something past and gone, but an effectual preparation for what is to come.
Have you sent your cards and done your shopping? If our Christmas cheer cannot always adequately express our love for our relatives, friends and neighbours, how much less can our prayer adequately express our love for God. So Advent begins in penitence: its colour is purple, the symbol for Christians of preparation and forgiveness. We reflect on our lives, and realise our inadequacies. But we do not remain focused on ourselves, for Advent calls us to look joyfully to Christ, who is coming again to complete his mission.
Advent hymns and readings are thus full of happy expectation of His imminent second coming. Advent candles and Advent calendars count down towards Christmas Day, but the Advent season encourages us not to put preparation off to tomorrow so as to be ready now. So we turn again to prayer and to the sacraments; especially to those of Repentance and the Eucharist.
The great symbol of Advent is the increase of light. Candles are lit in ever greater number in growing expectation. Advent is really an extended meditation on the mystery of time. We look back to the moment of the incarnation, the pivot around which world history turns, in order to see the meaning of the flow of events of human history towards their fulfilment. Advent is at once the antidote for both frenzied concern and cold cynicism. It concludes in the great celebration of the Incarnation; the Nativity, the Word that becomes flesh, giving us renewed zeal, hope and joy as the Christ child is born afresh in our hearts, our homes and our world.
Maranatha – Come Lord Jesus!
[Adapted from a reflection by Luke Millar]