November 25, 2005

Faith and Family / Sean Gallagher

Focus on the future in Advent

This Sunday is the first Sunday of Advent. While we in the Church are now only starting to turn our hearts toward Christmas, the prevailing culture in which we live acts as if it is one long season starting the day after Halloween.

Advent is simply a non-factor for the society in which we live. Part of that may be due to the economics of Christmas.

Each year, retailers pin more and more of their hopes on the Christmas buying season. And so the notion of not publicizing Christmas until the actual feast arrives would be ludicrous to them.

But more generally, I think that Advent isn’t part of our contemporary secular consciousness because the whole point of the season is about waiting. We live in a society that is increasingly driven by a perceived need for instant gratification.

In Advent, we place our spirits in union with the ancient people of Israel, who waited for so long for the coming of the Messiah.

But more than that, we ourselves are waiting for the Messiah’s return. Jesus promised to come back to us at a time when we least expect him.

His return will bring the end of history, the glorious fulfillment of the kingdom of God, but also the final judgment of all humanity.

This reality lends a real gravity to Advent. If it were focused only on the first coming of Christ or, even less, simply on the material aspects of Christmas, it could simply devolve into sentimental fluff.

But, as it truly is, Advent is a season that challenges us. It is a reminder that the mission of each day of our lives is to prepare ourselves for Christ’s return.

Now in saying this, I don’t want to be perceived as a killjoy Scrooge. Christ didn’t want our lives of faith to be pervaded with fear. He wanted us to be joyful in the knowledge that he has given us a superabundance of grace to help us along our path to the kingdom.

Advent, then, even with its focus on the future last judgment, is a season of joy. When we take steps to prepare ourselves for Christ’s second coming—which can happen at any moment—we can be truly happy knowing that we are one step closer to our destiny: the eternal bliss of heaven.

Sharing this rather countercultural message in our families can be a real help in transforming how so many of us (myself included) have lived the days and weeks that lead up to Christmas.

There are many spiritual activities that families can undertake to let this message truly sink into our hearts. The Advent penance services that parishes frequently hold are very good. What better way to prepare our hearts for Christ’s second coming than through the sacrament of reconciliation?

Parishes also often provide Advent prayer books for families to use in their homes. There are good Advent calendars that can help families from day to day in focus each day on what is truly important in their lives of faith. Advent wreaths in the home can also be a constant visible reminder of the season’s deeper meaning.

All these opportunities are good, and we should try to take advantage of them. Yet the pressure of the society in which we live makes that more difficult each year as the weeks leading up to Christmas seem to be filled with more and more activities and social gatherings.

But no matter what, parents should make this challenging aspect of Advent a part of their lives of faith. They in turn should share this good news with their children, helping them to await not just the coming of Christmas, but the greatest advent of all—the final coming of Christ. †


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