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Getting a Handle on Advent
Advent is in many ways difficult to come to grips with. This is especially so in Australia where it comes at the beginning of summer, as the school and working years conclude and beaches and barbeques beckon. There is a tendency for the busy-ness of shopping, parties and planning for Christmas Day to overtake the rhythm of the church year.
What then do we make of Advent? It is, of course, the curtain raiser and very much part of the Christmas season. Christmas Time does not end on 25th December but continues through the feasts of the Mother of God, the Epiphany and the Baptism of the Lord. In the background is always Mary’s ‘Yes’, which grounds these marvelous events and shows us how to respond.
The texts of Advent – the scripture readings, prefaces and prayers – are some of the richest treasures of the Church’s liturgy and draw us into the true spirit and purpose of the Advent season.
The special focus of Advent, as the word’s origins indicate, can be summed up in the phrase Here he comes. As we enter its meaning, we look back in time, look forward in time and open our eyes fully to the present.
‘Nation will not lift up sword against nation, there will be no more training for war!’ announces the prophet Isaiah on the first Sunday of Advent this year. We can connect with the longing of the Chosen People for peace as they waited for God to intervene and bring justice on earth.
We prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus as the beginning of the decisive answer to those prayers. As we look back in time and identify with our ancestors in faith, we marvel at how God’s answer went beyond anything they had dreamt. Here he comes.
A Saviour has been born for us, has died and risen for us. We look for him to come again, because we do not yet see the fullness of his Kingdom. This looking forward in time is the second meaning of Here he comes. In the epistle readings of Advent this year, Paul and James urge their communities - and us - to wait patiently for the completion of our salvation.
And here he comes right now. Christ is present today in his Church in word, sacrament and community. We can see him in the faces of the poor, the suffering and the powerless.
Advent is a time to let the Holy Spirit open our eyes to the presence of Jesus Christ alive today, even within ourselves. Every Christian in some way conceives and gives birth to the Word of God. In the faith, we bring Christ to a world that is waiting.
The period of Advent and Christmas is a time for us to ponder more deeply and proclaim to the world the Word of God made flesh. In this season, every Christian is called to share, through whatever opportunities the Lord provides, the good news that God has entered our human condition to unite us to him.
Maranatha. Come Lord Jesus!