Today is the First Sunday of Advent, and it’s worth exploring what Advent is and why it’s important for believers today.
The pace of current Western culture is marked by the famed convictions of “FOMO” – fear of missing out – and “YOLO” – you only live once. These cultural beliefs establish a fever pitch pace that require high-levels of juggling of duties, responsibilities, commitments, aspirations, ambitions, and desires.
The velocity caused by this high level of multi-tasking can lead a person to forget herself, neglect sacred things, eclipse important things – such as marriage, family, and other relationships – with urgent things, and get caught in the overall rat race that empties life of its meaning even as it enriches it with creature comforts and personal success.
In the thrall of this cultural way of life, what help can the Church provide to the Christian believer?
The Catholic Church is a willing companion and aid to all believers on their journey to live an abundant life. The Church takes on the transcendental tiredness and spiritual mediocrity caused by stress and excessive work.
It divvies up the year, and slows it down with a liturgical calendar. It peppers the year with specific seasons and feast days in order to preserve believers from negligence or stagnation.
Through the various liturgical observances, the Church gives a rhythm to life in order to re-awaken Christian disciples from spiritual slumber and accentuate important beliefs and lessons in Christian discipleship.
The Church’s liturgical calendar begins four Sunday’s before Christmas with the season of Advent. While one of the smaller seasons of the year, it’s dynamite in terms of what it offers the believer who observes it.
Advent is a time of expectation and preparation. In the big picture, it’s a reminder to Christians that the Lord Jesus will return. It keeps alive the joyful hope of the Lord’s Second Coming. More immediately, it calls believers to ready themselves for the celebration of the Lord’s Nativity.
While some other Christmas tasks could only add to the problems and busy-ness of life, such as collecting addresses for cards, attending parties, shopping for gifts, decorating, and other such things, Advent reminds and refocuses the believer on the spiritual preparation for Christmas.
It’s easy to get distracted and caught in the rush and so Advent tempers pre-Christmas celebrations, calls for resolutions, encourages prayer and penance, and redirects energies toward leisure and a quieter, calmer walk to the Lord’s Nativity.
As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI explained: “The beginning of the Liturgical Year helps us live anew the expectation of God who took flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary, God who makes himself little, who becomes a child; it speaks to us of the coming of a God who is close, who chose to experience human life from the very beginning in order to save it totally, in its fullness.”
As Advent is a solemn expectation for the Nativity celebration, it re-teaches the believer the importance of waiting. In a culture obsessed with activity and results, any waiting can be perceived as a power play or as being toyed with by another, especially by one who is stronger or better positioned.
Such a Machiavellian understanding, however, is challenged and converted by the readying work of Advent within the observant soul.
The great wait of Advent, therefore, reveals to the believer the place of anticipation in the spiritual life. It shows that waiting can go beyond drama and power play and can actually benefit a person and relationships. It displays that waiting can foster a person’s spiritual life by nurturing patience, maturing humility, and promoting peace in a person’s soul.
As a person comes to appreciate waiting, she can see that waiting is not merely a delay in getting an answer or a requested blessing, but is actually the first part of the answer or blessing. Anticipation shows the person that she is not yet ready to receive what God is choosing to bestow.
It indicates that God still has some work to do as waiting tills the soul, perhaps re-orients it, heals it, frees it from misplaced intentions, and readies it to receive the full enlightenment or benediction that God wishes to give, and perhaps not exactly the one that has been requested.
The waiting of the Christian disciple, emphasized and retaught during Advent, is an invitation to assume a posture of docility before God’s majesty and providence. It’s a summons to quiet life and its worries, be in touch with one’s interior dispositions, find peace, and generously receive the graces and blessings that God chooses to bestow.