By Michael Gonzalez, graduate student in Baylor’s department of political science
Ah Advent, the season set aside by the Church to prepare us for the great Feast of Christmas! To most Catholic imaginations, the word likely brings to mind the cutting of Christmas trees, the hanging of wreathes, the eating of good food, and resting by the fireside—or some such happy yuletide preparations. For students, it means the end of exams and a return to home; for teachers it means frantically grading exams so that one can return to home. For just about everyone, it’s probably safe to say that Advent represents a fairly happy time to make preparations for the big day.
Advent properly understood
How does the Church mark the beginning of this joyous time? Let’s revisit the Gospel from the First Sunday of Advent:
Jesus said to his disciples: “Be watchful! Be alert!… you do not know when the lord of the house is coming, whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning. May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!’”
Now that’s odd, isn’t it? Just as we’re all happily gearing up for Advent, the Church gives us a Gospel where Jesus rather seriously admonishes his followers to be vigilant and wary. He compares himself to the master of a house, and us to servants and guards on duty—not to revelers.
Maybe the second Sunday’s Gospel will bring a more appropriate message. Let’s check there as well:
As it is written in Isaiah the prophet: Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way. A voice of one crying out in the desert: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.” John the Baptist appeared in the desert proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. People of the whole Judean countryside and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as the acknowledged their sins…
When we consider the Scriptural passages given to us by the Church in the liturgy during Advent, we have to wonder whether our presentiments about this season reflect the reality taking place.
When Christ refers to his Second Coming, he speaks of a dramatic event for which we must constantly prepare ourselves. He calls for us to lead examined lives as Christians and not to simply “eat, drink, and be merry” as if in ignorance of the Master’s return. St. John the Baptist calls us to “make straight” the paths of the coming Lord. Many of the early Church Fathers interpreted this as a reference to God’s paths in each of our souls. How ready are each of us to receive Christ when he comes to us through the Feast of Christmas (let alone in weekly or daily Communion), a festival that itself looks forward to the great Second Coming written of in the Book of Revelation (which we heard from last week)?
Advent, a time of spiritual preparation
On one hand, it isn’t sinful or illegitimate to begin making our preparations for what really is a most happy and festive upcoming day. At the same time however, those preparations need to apply to more than just decorations, food, and presents.
A great majority of us at Baylor are now wrapping up our final exams (even as a graduate student, I don’t escape that fated ordeal). By all means, breathe a sigh of relief as you pack up for home, no matter how you think you did on your tests. That trial is over; there’s nothing you can do at this point but humbly accept that you did your best. However, as Christians, the final exam par-excellence is ever on the way. As Catholics, the Church gently but firmly reminds us of this reality in the readings she provides for us. She shows us in many of the Psalms and First and Second Readings God’s merciful love and consideration. At the same time, she gives us very compelling Gospels to remind us never to take our salvation for granted.
Christ came to save all, but we must actively accept his love every day. Just as human friendship requires labor and sacrifice, friendship with God requires that we make daily interior efforts to draw closer to Him.
Advent is the season set aside by the Church to prepare us for the great feast of Christmas. It is the season wherein we are called to prepare ourselves to meet Christ in Bethlehem, where we should realize that all our papers, final exams, and career plans—good though they may be—are little more than the straw of a manger in the long run of things.
Ways to prepare for Christmas
Follow the Church’s liturgy, pick up a spiritual reading such as a life of a saint, take up an extra prayer and penance for the season, or even just set aside some extra time each day in silence to be still and draw closer to God. Think about listening to (and reflecting on the words of) the Church’s beautiful Advent hymns such as the Rorate Caeli.
Take this Advent season to enjoy the well-needed break from the semester. But amid your holiday preparations, keep in mind the holy day that is approaching, and soberly remember that now is the time to “prepare the way of the Lord” and to “make straight his paths” in your soul.