Sunday November 28th marks the beginning of the season of Advent and the beginning of the new church year, it’s a four-week season that ends on Christmas Eve. Advent invites us to prepare ourselves, to get ready for the celebration of the Lord’s coming among us at Christmas. There was a time when Advent took on something of the character of Lent, a somewhat austere season of self-denial and penance in preparation for the feast. This aspect has largely been abandoned in our times although we are still encouraged to mark the season with some solemnity in order to do justice to the great feast it leads us to at Christmas. Christians of earlier times might well be scandalised by our relaxed marking of Advent and there is certainly a case to be made for more time of prayer and reflection to prevent the true meaning of Christmas becoming a spend fest of excess. The name Advent comes from the Latin word Adventus which means coming, and it invites us to celebrate the Lord’s first coming over 2000 years ago and to prepare for his return in the future.
At the heart of the Season is Hope. We look back on the hope of the people of the Old Testament who longed for the coming of the Saviour and whose hope was fulfilled in the Christ child of Bethlehem. We look forward also to the promised return of the Lord in glory. Hope comes in to its own in the face of hardship and difficulty, but hope is not some kind of self-comforting ‘Whistling past the graveyard’ exercise, since it is based not on ourselves or our own abilities and inner resources but on God himself. When we feel ourselves weighed down and overburdened it is then that we find an echo in St. Paul to the Romans (8:18-25)
The pandemic times invite us to hope.
18 I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in] hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
It’s easy to be carried along by the incessant enticements to Christmas spending which began weeks before Advent. The newly invented Black Friday (which now seems weeks long) has nothing to do with the birth of Jesus. Advent invites us to step back from the orchestrated frenzy and to reflect on the great mystery at the heart of what we celebrate. Sure, we have cards to write, cakes to bake, presents to buy and in their own way they have importance; but let’s not forget the why of it all.
The word made flesh who dwelt among us.
St. Mary’s Lucan