(Re-post from November 2015)
For those of us who love a Gospel reading with some good old-fashioned fire and brimstone, this the First Sunday of Advent is for you:
“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on earth nations will be in dismay, perplexed by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken…For that day will assault everyone who lives on the face of the earth.” (Luke 21:25-26, 35).
It’s a message that can put the Fear of God in someone--kinda like a Scared Straight! for Catholics. As for me, I don’t always like to think about the end of the world, and when I do, I prefer to be in a movie theatre with heavily buttered popcorn and a Cherry Coke. But like it or not, Jesus seems to be sending a clear message to me and the rest of Christians: Think about it. And do something about it.
So how does the Church say we are to prepare for the second coming of Christ? Participate in the Advent season, for starters. By understanding the meaning of Advent and the Church’s intent for its celebration, Catholics can dispose themselves to the grace of the blessed time between now and Christmas.
Perhaps you haven’t ever seen a connection between Advent and the Apocalypse, but the Church has long centered these four weeks before the celebration of Christmas on the two “comings” of Christ (Advent means “coming”, after all): His first coming (his birth ~2,015 years ago aka Christmas aka the Nativity of Our Lord) and his second coming, which will happen at a “day or hour no one knows” (Mark 13:32). The idea is that by reflecting upon the first coming of Christ, we can better prepare ourselves for the second coming.
First and foremost, that means to confess our sins in the sacrament of Reconciliation. The violet the priest wears during Advent is the same he wears in the confessional, and for good reason. Nativity will again be offering a special Advent Reconciliation service (Tuesday, December 20), but confessions are always available twice every weekday as well as Saturday afternoon [see the Liturgy page for the full schedule].
Secondly, Advent is a great time to develop good spiritual habits, especially prayer and penance. One of the time-honored traditions of Advent is to keep vigil, which actually combines both. There’s something about quiet prayer at night, especially when we’d rather be sleeping, that heightens our spiritual senses and gives us a sense of urgency when it comes to being ready for Our Lord to come again. We do this most visibly here at Nativity in Adoration, and how profound and peaceful the silence is in that chapel!
The commercialization of the Christmas holiday often leads to Advent being lost amidst the hustle and bustle of shopping and party preparation and the noise of Jingle Bells and Frosty the Snowman. It can be hard to find time to devote to any spiritual concerns, much less more than usual.
But I’ve found Advent to be a great gift, and I’ve sometimes found I’m the most grateful for it when I am the busiest--because the Church gives me an opportunity to slow down, take a deep breath, and focus on what really matters amidst the often-chaotic minutiae of everyday holiday-season life: Namely, Our Lord—and our relationship with him.
The Lord has something for us during these precious few weeks: Himself. And I promise you, that’s a gift far greater than any you’ll find under the tree.
A version of this article was published in the November 29, 2015 issue of the parish bulletin.
Image credit: The Journey of the Three Kings (1825) by Leopold Kupelwieser (public domain)