Finding Faith: Advent is a season for preparation
"After a couple of years of celebrating apart because of the pandemic, and also for having just lived through another rancorous national election, we all could use the joy and hope and anticipation that is promised us in Christmas, in the birth of a mighty little king born in a manger."
The new church year will begin for tens of millions of Christians in Western nations on Sunday as we celebrate the first Sunday of Advent.
Advent is a season of preparation for the coming of the Christ child, whom Christians believe to be God’s son sent to earth to live among us. It’s the beginning of the “liturgical” year, with all the other religious seasons and festival days to follow in a cycle that commemorates the life, death and Resurrection of Jesus.
In today’s world, the season seems reduced to little more than commercial entities using it to sell kitschy Advent calendars, containing everything from chocolate to booze.
But historically, Christians in early centuries used Advent as a serious time to prepare spiritually first for Epiphany and the manifestation of Jesus becoming man, and then in later centuries, transitioned to a season of preparation for the coming of the Christ child, an event better known as Christmas.
The Advent season was both a somber season in which Christians would first indulge in prayer, fasting and penance, and a season filled with joy, hope and the anticipation of Jesus’ birth, all important facets of a spiritual life. And it seems in today’s world we could use a little of both sides of the equation in our holidays.
After a couple of years of celebrating apart because of the pandemic, and also for having just lived through another rancorous national election, we all could use the joy and hope and anticipation that is promised us in Christmas, in the birth of a mighty little king born in a manger.
But, it also seems that Christmas comes too easily nowadays. Thanks to online shopping sites that can drop hastily purchased gifts at our doorstep in mere days, schedules that force us to cram family get-togethers in between school and work obligations and our increasing isolation from our neighbors, there seems to be little inclination to use this time leading up to Christmas for any sort of spiritual preparation. It’s full speed ahead! Bring on the parties and glitz. And then we pack it all away for another year.
“Bah humbug!” you might cry. … “You’re just an old ‘fuddy duddy’ clinging to a romanticized version of Christmases past! It was actually never that dandy anyway. ‘A Christmas Story’ was and always will be just a Hollywood movie.”
Fair enough; you wouldn’t be wrong making comparisons between me and the “Old Man” — Ralphie’s dad in the movie.
But I’m also not wrong that the world could benefit from some time spent in spiritual preparation leading up to Christmas, regardless of your faith tradition. After all, you don’t have to believe in Jesus Christ as the Messiah to get on board with a little more prayer and penance, nor joy and hope this time of year. Happy Advent everyone!