Happy Advent! Did you miss that it started on Sunday? If you only paid attention to the readings, especially the Gospel, you may have thought you were still at the end of the liturgical year. In fact, why in the world would the Church choose such a Gospel for the beginning of Advent? Perhaps a better question to ask is: what is Advent? Yes, it is the preparation time before Christmas, but it is more than that. Advent is preparing for all the comings of Christ, only in reverse order: tomorrow, today, and yesterday.
First the Church, through the Gospel readings, asks us if we are ready for Jesus to return; not someday in the future, but right now. Secondly, in having four weeks to prepare, the Church gives us the opportunity to “scrub our souls,” to utilize this new (liturgical) year as the time to get our spiritual lives back on track with a deeper relationship with God. Lastly, by celebrating His Incarnation, we remember when, “in the fullness of time” Jesus walked on the earth like you and I. Matthew’s Gospel passage (24:37-44) has Jesus asking His disciples of His day (and all who will follow Him through the centuries) if they will be prepared when He comes again. Jesus is heralding the end of time here at the beginning of the Church’s year. But even the “end of time” is a beginning as well — it’s the beginning of eternity with both body and soul as we anticipate the resurrection of the dead and the final judgment.
Who wants to think of the end of the world as we know it? Isn’t it nicer to think about Jesus coming as a wee babe over 2,000 years ago? The nativity story brings both joy and peace, wouldn’t it be better to just focus on that? Or maybe it’s focusing on the gifts we’ll get, I mean give, at Christmas; that’s a better line of thinking, right? How about instead of thinking of giving gifts, we think of the holiday’s receiving aspect? We enjoy it when our friends and family delight in receiving our gifts, but how joyful are we to receive what is given to us? From the ugly sweater to the tool we will never use, it’s the thought that counts, right? But do we receive those gifts well? Do we appreciate the thought, time, effort, energy, and cost the givers spend in preparing our Christmas gifts? Perhaps this year we can challenge ourselves to be content with whatever we receive, and to receive it well. That means with all the love and appreciation that we have in the relationships we have with the gifters.
When Jesus was born at Bethlehem, there were very few who were happy to receive Him: His parents, a few shepherds and three foreigners. Is the world any more welcoming to Jesus now? For us Catholic Christians, do we celebrate His birthday or do we use the day to celebrate our material and consumer-driven world? Jesus comes to us every day that Mass is said; do we joyously greet Him as we receive His Precious Body in the Eurcharist? And if Jesus came at the end of the world today, how would you receive Him? Would you be ecstatic to see Jesus or would you feel not truly ready to meet Him? This is what Advent is all about: preparing to receive Jesus in every way He comes to us: yesterday, today, and always until the end of time.
St. Paul cautioned the Romans in his letter to stay awake and that salvation is closer today than when they first believed. Time is marching ever nearly to its end, which is the beginning of life eternal with God. Now is the time to prepare. Now is the time to turn to God and seek a relationship with Him, to seek to do His will, and to be open to receive all the gifts He wants to give us.