The Season of Hope and Expectation
Beginning the Church’s liturgical year, Advent (from, “ad-venire” in Latin or “to come to”) is the season encompassing the four Sundays (and weekdays) leading up to the celebration of Christmas.
The Advent season that begins on Sunday, November 27, is a time of preparation that directs our hearts and minds to Christ’s second coming at the end of time and to the anniversary of Our Lord’s birth on Christmas. From the earliest days of the Church, people have been fascinated by Jesus’ promise to come back. But the scripture readings during Advent tell us not to waste our time with predictions. Advent is not about speculation. Our Advent readings call us to be alert and ready, not weighted down and distracted by the cares of this world (Lk 21:34-36). Like Lent, the liturgical color for Advent is purple since both are seasons that prepare us for great feast days. Advent also includes an element of penance in the sense of preparing, quieting, and disciplining our hearts for the full joy of Christmas.
As we prepare for Christmas, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal notes some differences to the Mass that should be observed during the season. For instance, the priest will wear violet or purple during Advent, except for the Third Sunday of Advent (Gaudete Sunday) when rose may be worn (GIRM, no. 316). Aside from what the priest wears, other aesthetic changes in the Church can include a more modestly decorated altar. The final days of Advent, from December 17 to December 24, we focus on our preparation for the celebrations of the Nativity of our Lord at Christmas. In particular, the “O” Antiphons are sung during this period and have been by the Church since at least the eighth century. They are a magnificent theology that uses ancient biblical imagery drawn from the messianic hopes of the Old Testament to proclaim the coming of Christ as the fulfillment not only of Old Testament hopes, but of present ones as well.
“Advent invites us to a commitment to vigilance, looking beyond ourselves, expanding our mind and heart in order to open ourselves up to the needs of people, of brothers and sisters, and to the desire for a new world.” – Pope Francis
First Sunday of Advent
The purpose of Advent is to prepare us to celebrate Jesus’s birth. The first reading during the Advent Season takes us back to Old Testament times, when Israel looked forward to the coming of the Messiah. Jesus is the one who fulfills all of the messianic prophecies. Today’s first reading says that the longed-for Messiah will come from the stock of David. The focus of the Gospel is the Second Coming of Jesus. The early Christians believe that the Second Coming is near and will be preceded by cosmic signs. The disciples are urged to wait in prayer and vigilance. In the second reading, Paul shows his people how to prepare for Christ’s Second Coming
Second Sunday of Advent
In the first reading, Jerusalem is told to take off her “clothes of mourning” because God is coming to liberate her children from exile. In the second reading, Paul, writing from prison, expresses his gratitude to the
Third Sunday of Advent
Traditionally, the third Sunday of Advent is called Gaudete (“Let us rejoice!”) Sunday, we are rejoicing because our salvation is near at hand. A spirit of joy pervades the first and second readings as well as the psalm. In the Gospel, John responds very concretely to people who ask him: “What must we do?”
Fourth Sunday of Advent
Elizabeth’s question ‘Who am I?’ underscores the surprising wisdom of God who seems to choose the least likely people (in the Gospel: Mary and Elizabeth), the least likely places (in the first reading: Bethlehem; in the second reading: human flesh) and the least likely methods (in the second reading: Jesus’ sacrifice) in order to give his people his saving presence.”
This day our world is reminded how God became flesh from our flesh and blood from our blood. He joined us in our human poverty as he was born from the Virgin Mary in a stable by the roadside. There people could see how God had eyes to smile at us, ears to hear our cries and stammering, arms to extend to us and embrace us, a heart to beat for us and to love us, a mouth to speak to us words of endearment and truth, a life to live for us and to give up for us. Has his coming changed us and brought us close to him?
The Gospel reading from John—which starts not with the birth of Jesus, but rather in the heavenly realm with a poetic reflection on the eternal Word who “was in the beginning with God”—uses the striking description of the Word descending and then, literally, “pitching his tent among us.” That beautiful image captures well God’s desire to draw near to us, and to draw us to him.
Another way to appreciate the expression of divine love we celebrate at Christmas is to reflect on what lies behind the notion of self-revelation. Today’s second reading, from the Letter to the Hebrews, declares that, while God has spoken “in partial and various ways” in the past, God now speaks to us “through the Son.” Think of the dynamism of people who are in love. They seek to reveal themselves to the beloved. We only reveal ourselves most intimately to those whom we love most, whether it be our spouse or our closest friends.
God so loves us that he has “spoken” his Word, the Word “who became flesh” and pitched his tent among us. When the evangelist John says that “the Word was with God,” he employs an expression in Greek that signifies that the eternal Word was turned toward God. There is a sense of intimacy implied, one made explicit at the end of the Gospel reading when John writes that the Son is (literally) in the bosom of the Father. That is the reason why Jesus can reveal who God is. He is the Word, the very self-expression, of God and God’s love.
In the Opening Prayer, we ask “that we may share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity.” That is a bold petition! It is also a proper response to the gift we celebrate at Christmas. The Gospel reading announces that, to those who open their hearts to the gift of Jesus, God has bestowed “power to become children of God.” What Jesus is by nature, God’s Son, we become by adoption, God’s sons and daughters.
Christmas is a wondrous time for children. It can be a wondrous time for all of us, for we are reminded of our identity and dignity as children of God, the God who so delights in us that he took on human form. With the gift comes a task —or, better, a mission —to grow more and more into the “family likeness” of God. That is, we are to grow in self-giving love. To do that, we must first welcome that love into our hearts. The Christmas season is the time to bask in and absorb the greatest gift ever bestowed, the One whom Isaiah in the first reading describes as bringing us God’s comfort, redemption, and salvation. (Excerpt from Christmas Reflection, Boston College)
Feast of the Holy Family (December 26)
Were we to forget its placement in the cycle of feasts that make up the Christmas season, the feast of the Holy Family could easily be looked upon as little more than a pious devotion focused on an unattainable ideal. Nevertheless, this feast is about the mystery of the Incarnation, the firm conviction we hold that Jesus is both Son of God, fully divine, and Son of Mary, fully human, and that mystery has saving origins of that mystery, rooted in families willing to make God’s will first in their lives.
During this holy season of Advent we are all being called on and exhorted by the Church to prepare ourselves to commemorate worthily the first coming of Christ as our Brother and Savior. If we do that each year; if we let the full meaning of this great festival of Christmas enter into our innermost being, welcoming the Son of God in the form of the Babe of Bethlehem with a clean, sincere and grateful heart, then each year of our lives will be sanctified and a big step will be taken towards our eternal goal. Christmas each year should be a mile-stone on the road to heaven for every true Christian. It is a festival which vividly recalls to our minds the length our heavenly Father has gone to in order to make us adopted sons and sharers in his everlasting happiness.
If God cares so much for our true welfare—and the Incarnation surely proves that he does—we should surely have enough interest in our own future to cooperate with him in this affair of our eternal salvation.
In the gospel it is Christ himself who is asking each one of us to live our lives so that no matter when we are called to judgment we shall not be found wanting. This does not mean that we must always be praying. Nor does it mean that we must take no interest in the affairs of this life. Of the two men working in the field and of the two women grinding corn, one of each was found unworthy, not because of the work he or she was doing, but because that work had for them wrongly excluded God and his purpose in life. The two found worthy had room for God and their own eternal welfare in their hearts—their work was part of their loyal service to God and was a means towards their salvation.
In this town (or city) of ours all adults are occupied one way or another with earthly affairs and necessarily so. But while these earthly affairs may, and do alas, become cruel task-masters for some and tie down their whole attention to the things of this earth, for others, thank God, their daily tasks are stepping stones to heaven. The day of reckoning will come, suddenly like a thief in the night for the former, and for the others it will not be a thief breaking in but the Master knocking at their door to take them to himself.
Christmas comes but once a year but its meaning, its lesson, must remain in our hearts and minds all the year round. God wants us in heaven forever. He sent his Son on earth to bring us there. Aided by God’s grace we resolve today so to live our lives that when death claims us we shall meet Christ, not as a condemning judge, but as a loving brother.