Happy New Year! This First Sunday of Advent is the beginning of the new liturgical year.
The liturgical season of Advent is almost totally lost on a cultural level. As a culture, we have begun celebrating Christmas from at least Halloween, and even earlier. But the season of Advent tells us, “It is not Christmas yet!” The Church does not sing Christmas songs until the Christmas Masses. The culture stops Christmas music the day after Christmas.
So, is the Church just a big ole Scrooge who wants to take the fun out of Christmas? Is she just a grouch? I do not think so.
Advent serves an important spiritual role. During the first weeks of Advent, we stand with the people of Israel as they waited and hoped for the coming of the Messiah. Even though Jesus has already come, we do still await His Second Coming in glory at the end of time. This waiting and hoping and longing is the great theme of Advent. We cry out, “Come! Lord Jesus!” This is often expressed using the Aramaic word, “Maranatha,” which means, “The Lord is coming.”
We are a people addicted to instant gratification. Some have said that instant gratification takes too long. Waiting with eager expectation for a long period of time is counter to our nature. And yet Israel had to wait for centuries for the promises of the prophets to be fulfilled. So, although the surrounding culture is already celebrating Christmas, we wait patiently.
There is a spirit of poverty about Advent, about the longing for the coming of the Messiah. Resting in this poverty contradicts the rabid materialism of our culture’s celebration of Christmas. Jesus was born in poverty in Bethlehem, but we celebrate His birth with an orgiastic explosion of consumerism. How easily the truth of what we are preparing to celebrate is lost.
I am not one who is big on tilting against windmills (although I do have an image of Don Quixote on my desk), so I am not going to try to say that we should not join in our culture’s celebration of Christmas. But do let us find space in the mania of this season to celebrate Advent and to prepare not just for Christmas, but for Christ.
–Fr. Mike Comer