December 2, 2005

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Don’t let Advent pass without joyfully making room for God

In the ancient world, “advent” was a technical term. It referred to the arrival of a person of high office, such as an emperor or king. In the pagan world, it could also signify the coming of a god or goddess who was emerging from obscurity and making his or her presence known. The advent of the god or goddess might be celebrated in pagan ritual. Christianity took over this word “advent” to signify the entry of Jesus Christ in the procession of life on earth, something truly to be anticipated and celebrated.

The most profound meaning of Christian Advent can be understood in its several aspects. It connotes an important visit. It is a time of expectant waiting. It is a time of quiet joy.

The backdrop for the season of Advent is intended as a time of reflective quiet in the days before Christmas. For many folks, it is anything but that. But we should not simply concede that the weeks before Christmas must be hectic and anxious. We have something to say about that.

This time before Christmas can take on a completely different flavor if we choose to see it as a time of preparing for a special visit from God, who wants to enter our lives and become closer to us. We can welcome this special visit of God, who loves us as individuals, as a family and also as a community of faith.

This is a time when, with God’s help, we might make a special effort to free ourselves a bit more from being possessed by our work or other preoccupations that tend to keep God at bay. We might resolve to step aside from being driven by things or other people in order to give God a chance to help us carry our everyday burdens. Advent reminds us that God wants to be with us.

It is also a time of expectant waiting. For most of us, waiting is not a pleasant experience. When I think of waiting, I remember the experience of what seemed like endless hours in the eye doctor’s office as a kid while my eyes were being dilated for the exam. During that waiting, I couldn’t read; I couldn’t do anything but sit there, and I wasn’t good at it.

That is not the kind of waiting that underscores the meaning of the Christian Advent. The time before Christmas is intended to be a waiting full of hope. Waiting is something familiar in all the stages of life for everyone. We are always hoping for better times.

As Christians, we hope that the Lord will be with us every step of the way on our pilgrim journey in life. We hope and pray that, if not now, someday he “will gather up all our tears and troubles” in that kingdom where every tear will be wiped away. Even in sorrow, we can grieve with hope because we know that some day we will enter the Father’s house where everything will be OK.

An Advent thank you for the gift of our faith is timely. If we had nothing to hope for, life would indeed be empty. A prayerful pause during the days before Christmas helps us deepen our awareness of the true meaning of the procession of life on the way to God’s house.

Advent reminds us that life can indeed be a procession of joy as we make our way to the kingdom. Christian joy is not something superficial or fleeting that disappears after all the gifts have been opened on Christmas morning. Even human suffering cannot deprive us of joy. In fact, human suffering and joy are not contradictory. Joy is a sense of happiness that is rooted in a deep inner peace in our hearts. When all is said and done, God is with us.

Deep inner peace, of course, means that we open our hearts to God who has come and continues to come to be with us. On the other hand, sadness of heart and joy can be contradictory. Sadness of spirit that comes from a less than truthful life can suffocate Christian joy. The good news is that Jesus Christ gave us a remedy for spiritual sadness, namely the sacrament of reconciliation. Advent provides us with the special opportunity to make things right between us and God, who comes to be with us.

The true spirit of preparing for the birthday of Jesus and the promise of eternal happiness in the Father’s house has rightly led to the tradition of exchanging gifts at Christmas. The important thing is to remember why we share the joy of giving. Then Advent has a chance to become a season of quiet joy and waiting with hope. †


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