Why do we have Advent?

You say, “I don’t know, it always just comes along,” or, “I don’t know, no one ever told me.” I have heard these questions, answers and others, a number of times. Especially this one: if Christ has already been born, what is this Advent waiting about? Have we forgotten about his birthing?

Strangely that is part of the answer. It has to do with his birth into our hearts and also our forgetfulness.

Our hearts get drowsy and lazy, tired out by the anxieties of daily life. Maybe we distract ourselves from our troubles by working very hard, or becoming depressed, or becoming fascinated with drink, or sex, or out-of-control emotions, or gambling, or email, or golf, or surfing the web, or pride, or, or, or (you name yours). Whatever it is for you, the very clear message of Advent is, “Settle down for a while.” Open the door just a crack to let God in.

The Church has a liturgical strategy in the Advent Sunday readings. Each week’s First Reading is the carrot: usually positive, a promise of good. Then the Gospel hits you with a big stick to wake you up.

Take the encouraging First Reading this Sunday. It reminds us of the promise God has made to his people: rightness and justice will come to the earth. Security. The day of the Lord will arrive, though long delayed. Peace in our day.

What a lovely thing it is to desire such a time. Too good to be true? Just pious thought? Read the First Reading now and ask yourself those questions. Spend time with them. Pray to God for help. The Responsorial Psalm will help you. It asks God to make known his ways to us, to guide us and teach us.

The Second Reading urges us to put God’s promise of peace into action, even if we are not yet sure what it means. Love others and be loved.

Ah, and then the Gospel. It tries to wake us up, especially if the above has not helped. “But I am perfectly awake,” you say. Alright then, go ahead and read the Gospel. It is the “stick.”

Signs in the sun, moon and stars, nations in dismay, the roaring of the sea and the waves, people dying of fright, and the Son of Man appearing in the clouds with power and great glory.

Terrifying.

So you are all ready for it? Let yourself imagine what it might be like. Picture it scene by scene and don’t worry about being exact. Just experience it.

Will such a shakeup really happen literally? We do not know. Maybe much worse is to come, judging from the state of the world today. Do you live without fear of terrorist acts, of proliferating nuclear weapons, of a horrific climate change, of a crash of the entire world economy or the greed that fills so many hearts to overflowing in your city, in your state, your world?

If you can say “You are right, I am afraid of these,” then go back to the Responsorial Psalm and pray. Beg that Christ be given birth in your soul and in so many others in this world that need it so badly.

Welcome to Advent.

Copyright © 2012, John B. Foley, S.J.
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Permission is hereby granted to reproduce for personal or parish use.