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Advent, a season of joyful expectation before Christmas, begins Nov. 29 this year. The Advent wreath, with a candle marking each week of the season, is a traditional symbol of the liturgical period. (CNS photo/Lisa A. Johnston, St. Louis Review)

Don’t forget the greatest gift of all this Advent

With Christmas less than a month away, it’s time to remember the true meaning of Advent and the need to prepare for the Infant King, Fr Michael Kane writes

It seems hard to believe that we begin the season of Advent this weekend. Our parish, like so many others, is gearing-up for the beginning of a different, more intense, timetable during this season of preparation, with devotions, benediction and added opportunities for daily Mass and confessions.

Those who attend St Augustine’s will know that it’s something of a hobbyhorse of mine to return to the theme of growing in Faith during this penitential season.

Advent encourages an honest look at our spiritual lives as they are today, with a view to adding something extra during the weeks ahead.

 

Relationship with God and the Church

This season is an opportune time to grow and mature in our relationship with God and His Church.

It invites us to rededicate, renew, recharge and rejuvenate our Faith in Jesus, and carry out an annual ‘condition report’ on our prayer life which is the keystone of that relationship.

‘Can I give more time to God?’ is the question which Advent inspires.

Strangely, it always feels to me as though Christmas creeps up on us just as we’re getting started with Advent, which is why good preparation is so key to this holy season.

It was Benjamin Franklin who once said that ‘by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.’

Such a phrase can be applied to so many areas of life: study, work, family life, social events (or even dancing on Strictly!)

Preparation is key to good order and success in so much of our lives, but Franklin could easily have been talking about Advent with its call to ready ourselves and prepare spiritually for the coming of the Infant King of Bethlehem.

 

Drowned out

It seems to me that Advent is always a season which wrestles for our attention.

So often its spiritual message is drowned out by other preparations at this time of year.

The spending culture before Christmas often overshadows the real reason for the season and blurs its essential meaning.

So much time is spent on buying and wrapping that we can forget the greatest gift of all, wrapped in swaddling clothes: Jesus the Infant King of Bethlehem.

Even the trusty Advent calendar has fallen victim to secular whims.

Children would be forgiven today for believing that Advent is an exciting journey towards meeting Peppa Pig or Bob the Builder, given that cartoon characters seem to feature on the majority of Advent calendars.

Religious versions have become rare these days in our shops and supermarkets. It’s a religious custom altogether hijacked now by a purely commercial mentality.

In supermarkets you will find every variety of novelty advent calendar, save the one which bears a Bethlehem scene. It seems that the Lord has been politely uninvited from his own party!

The same can be said of Christmas cards, another hobbyhorse of mine!

Christmas cards are much more likely these days to feature polar bears frolicking in the snow than the nativity scene of that first Christmas morning.

Even some Christians exchange secular cards and so relegate Jesus further into the background.

It is, of course, true that religious cards are more difficult to find, but discerning shoppers will still find them in church stalls or in the shady corners of most card shops.

Sending religious cards signals an important message to the recipient.

It carries a gentle message that, for us, Advent is about preparing for the Lord’s Incarnation.

In the midst of a secular culture and shifting social priorities, it signals to others that our focus remains on Christ; our preparations are all leading to Him.

As important as these practical religious traditions are, however, we know that the most important preparations we can make in Advent are essentially interior and spiritual.

The Lord invites us, each of us, to journey with him to Bethlehem and to consider the importance of the Lord’s coming into my life.

 

Lord’s rebirth

Advent is a time to prepare for the Lord’s rebirth into our families and homes, His transformative rebirth into every relationship and circumstance of my life.

During Advent, much like at Lent, the voice of John the Baptist will herald the Lord’s coming.

Our Mass readings will feature the Baptist’s call ‘to prepare a way for the Lord’ and to ‘make straight His paths.’

His call, echoing down through the ages unchanged and uninterrupted, urges us to turn away from the distractions which everywhere surround us at this time of year, and to focus our attention on the spiritual mysteries which unfold in this holy season.

It invites us to find a different rhythm to our life, to walk a different path, to approach Christmas with a different mentality which is not corrupted by a secular and materialistic mindset.

Yet, it is not sufficient simply to rally against contemporary culture with its materialistic priorities.

We cannot simply lament the direction of things today and the waning of noble Advent traditions, without proposing a life-giving alternative.

Christians are asked to construct and participate in a new vision for life, and to become a living example of the authentically Christian Advent experience. That must begin from within.

As our homes and parishes and schools become frantic places of ‘doing’ and rushing and hurrying in the coming weeks, let’s try not to forget what it’s all about, and who it’s all about.

 

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