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Advent Once More - 29th November 2015
When I started writing this “Liturgy Lines” column in Lent 1999, I could not possibly have anticipated that I would be still doing so in 2015. This year is the 17th Advent when I have shared thoughts on the season with readers of The Catholic Leader and those who access the column online. What can I possibly say about Advent that I haven’t said at least once before?
Personally, I try to make this time of year what it is intended to be – a period of anticipation and reflection, and to this end I find the Advent-Christmas resources prepared by a few Australian dioceses very helpful in this.
A sense of anticipation is central to liturgical celebrations during Advent. The obvious - but not necessarily most important - focal point is the anticipation of the feast of Christmas, when the first coming of Christ is remembered. But Advent is also the season of the second coming. Some may find this aspect a little uncomfortable and hence shy away from it, focussing instead on Christmas cribs and nativity scenes.
The season of Advent falls between the solemnity of Christ the King with its own echoes of the triumphant return of the Saviour and the feast of Christmas. Advent celebrations should pick up the feelings of joyful expectation that the celebrations anticipate. The marks of Advent are preparation, expectation and joyful anticipation.
The strength of the liturgy lies in the readings. Each Gospel has a distinctive theme. The first Sunday brings forth the Lord’s coming at the end of time. The second and third Sunday reflect upon John the Baptist, while the fourth Sunday sets the scene for the birth of the Lord.
The texts from the Old Testament envelop us in the prophecies about the messiah and the messianic age, with particular reference to the prophet Isaiah. The challenge is to allow these aspects to come to the fore when culture and environment crowd them out.
Culturally, this time of the year in Australia is about buying gifts, enjoying time off work and school, watching cricket and tennis on TV and, too often, over-indulging. Christmas is a great family festival (like Thanksgiving in North America), a clear tie in with the family narrative of Jesus’ birth but not quite a match with the depths of incarnational theology brought through in the prayers and readings of Advent and Christmas together.
Advent is something of a ‘lost’ season in this country. The sense of the Lordship of Christ is very hard to muster. The anticipation of Christmas is certainly there, but so is heat, light, frenetic activity, the closing of the year with celebration and revelry – and Santa is everywhere.
Advent liturgies do have something to bring to this mix. The readings are strong and challenging. Preaching and prayers can provide spiritual nourishment around the meaning of family and community. Cutting back on activity and decorations, music and words at Mass gives people the time and space to reflect, wait, anticipate.
A resource that I have found very helpful for this time of year is "What Are We Waiting For? Finding Meaning in Advent & Christmas" by Richard Leonard SJ. Full details and ordering at http://www.booktopia.com.au/what-are-we-waiting-for--richard-leonard/prod9780809149063.html.