Advent’s Light

With the start of the Advent season also comes the glitter and sparkle of the secularized Christmas Season. Lights are put outside, trees are decorated; neighborhoods start to glow; all in the name of the ‘Holiday Season’. Some Catholics lament over the lost importance of Advent – and with good cause. Many of the faithful succumb to this secular season and give little, if any, regard to the importance of Advent. Some of these lamenting Catholics urge us to sweep aside these ‘secular traditions’ so we can bring back the meaning of Advent. There is some import in what they urge. This initial season of the new liturgical year is multilayered with spiritual realities; but it can be easily swept aside by the busy-ness, anxiety, and even despair (of varying intensities) that comes with this time of year. As it stands now, for many Advent is the lost season.

This evening I want to reflect on one of those important spiritual realities that can be missed in the blaring and glaring of the secularized season. So I ask myself and you: what comes with Advent? What comes with the beginning of the presence of our Lord in our minds and hearts?

Hope!

As Catholics we should be a continually hopeful people. In a very real way each day should start with the Advent of, the beginning presence of, hope. Hope should be the persona that everyone sees in us. St. Peter tells us in his first letter: ‘Always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you…[1] He takes for granted that it is hope that people see in us. And why? St. Peter tells us that in his first letter as well: ‘By his great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and to an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you…[2] We have hope; indeed, we are ontologically hopeful because God has given us hope through and in his Son. The Holy Spirit dwells within us – hope is part of our being.

Holy Mother Church’s celebration of Advent places an intense focus the two great hopes – one is eschatological and the other historical, but both are in the present; the final coming and the nativity. We are waiting for both; the former in anticipatory hope and the later with a retrospective hope. We are comforted with both; one because of a longed for homecoming and the other because of the realization of God’s love for us[3].

Brothers and sisters in Christ – let’s start this Advent season by prayerfully looking into our hearts and bringing forth the hope that God instills in us. Let’s reflect on our station in life and what the hope of Christ brings to us at this moment. Let’s pray for the ability to, as St. Peter urges; ‘make a defense for the hope within us.’ Let’s reintroduce ourselves to the hope of Christ.

Finally, in difference to those lamenting Catholics I mentioned earlier; this return to an Advent frame of mind doesn’t mean we need to shut ourselves off from the secularized atmosphere of the season. Our ability to fruitfully participate in the Advent Season doesn’t preclude us from participating in the secular glitter and tinsel of this Holiday Season. St. Paul in 2nd letter to the Corinthians wrote at length about living in the world, not of it. We are called to do the same. Christ’s last words on earth commanded us ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations[4] In obedience to His command Holy Mother Church throughout Her history went into the world and took what the local populations held as traditions and, if they could, they enriched these traditions with religious understanding – gave them their fullest meaning. This new evangelization, initiated by Pope St. John Paul the Great, not only calls us to reintroduce Christ to those who have forgotten His message – but to do this it also calls us to revitalize our secular traditions with divine intent.

So let’s put this into practice – let’s repurpose society’s celebration. As you drive down darkened streets and come upon one or two (or more) glowing houses – think of our heavenly home shining through the darkness of the world. Feel the excitement that we have for these colorful displays and elevate it to heaven where, as St. John writes in Revelation: ‘night shall be no more; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light[5] Look to the beauty and dazzling effects of a Christmas tree and the curious anticipation felt for the gifts under it and allow it to restore in us true hope for not only the celebration of Christ’s incarnation but our final homecoming. Allow the sights, sounds and energy of society’s celebration to enter our hearts so we can place a sacred meaning to them – a meaning that will enliven our hope given to us by Christ. A hope that will energize us to bring others with us on our journey in this new liturgical year.

———————————————————————

All bible quotes taken from RSV
[1] 1 Peter 3:15b
[2] 1 Peter 1:3-4
[3] St. Augustine: “Nothing was so necessary for raising our hope as to show us how deeply God loved us. And what could afford us a stronger proof of this than that the Son of God should become a partner with us of human nature?” http://www.ncregister.com/blog/dan-burke/an-augustine-christmas-10-comments-on-the-incarnation-of-christ
[4] Matthew 28:19
[5] Rev 22:5

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