Recently I visited a 4th grade CCE (Continuing Christian Education) class to teach the kids about Advent. “Who can mention the seasons of the Church,” I asked. Eagerly, the kids raised their hands. “Summer,” the first kid said. “No.” I replied, pointing to another kid. “Winter,” another kid quickly blotted. I turned to another kid, expecting a good answer this time. “Spring,” was his answer. Then I knew that I had to lower my expectations. “I mean the seasons of the Church year,” I explained. At that point, some of the kids gave me the “what is he talking about” look.
Eventually, they mentioned Lent and Easter. But they had a very poor understanding of Advent. Then I realized that for these kids, and many kids, and even adults, the season of Advent is like the “appetizer” which you can skip, depending on how hungry you are. Everyone who is really hungry is looking forward to the main meal – Christmas. Worse still, the over commercialization of Christmas, seems to make Advent less appreciated, and more negligible. But is Advent just an appetizer? If yes, why does the Church devote so much time and energy in celebrating these four weeks before Christmas, and how relevant is the season of Advent?
Advent (Lat. adventus) means arrival. The question is whose arrival? When you hear songs like “Oh! You better watch out, You better not cry, You better not pout, Cause I’m telling you why: Santa Claus is coming to town!,” it seems that we are preparing for the arrival of Santa Clause and not Jesus Christ, the Savior. I call those who put too much emphasis on Santa Claus and shopping, “Santaholics.” These are not just the kids, but adults as well. Some would rather say “Happy Holidays” than “Merry Christmas.” It is really difficult to tell what a good number of people celebrate during Christmas. That raises the question: when people are preparing, what are they preparing for? How are they preparing?
Advent is for those who are preparing for the arrival (birth) of Jesus Christ on Christmas day. The four-week period of Advent emphasizes penitence and joyful expectation. Different parishes have different events scheduled. They include penance services, in addition to regular confession times. There is also communal adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament. Advent season also encourages works of charity and mercy. The color purple is the liturgical color for the season to mark the penitential nature of the season. Floral decorations are used in moderation. The organ and other musical instruments are also used in moderation. The “Gloria” is omitted during Mass. The third Sunday of Advent is traditionally called Gaudete (rejoice) Sunday. The color rose is used at the liturgical color to expresses a joyful note of anticipation for the coming of the Savior. All these are done to suit the character of the season. Advent emphasizes the first coming of Jesus as Savior and Redeemer, and His second coming in glory as Lord and Judge. Therefore Christ himself has instructed us on how to prepare for his coming by saying, “Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come.” (Mk 13:33). Clearly, there is more to preparing for Christmas than knowing the date and shopping for it.
Scripture tells us how Jesus prepared for His coming: “he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance …” (Phil 2:7) The self-emptying, taking the form of a slave, and then coming in human likeness, all describe elaborate preparation. If the Lord did such elaborate preparation for His coming, why would He find us unprepared when he arrives? Material preparation is very important, no doubt. But moral and spiritual preparation is much more important. Otherwise we would be like those described thus: “he came to his own home, and his own people received him not. But to all who receive him, who believe in his name, he gave power to become children of God ” (Jn 1:11-12)
Advent is to Christmas what John the Baptist is to Jesus – preparation for the real thing. But not just in the sense of an “appetizer,” but in a more profound and meaningful way. He declares: “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.” (Jn 1:23).
One of the titles of Jesus Christ is “Emmanuel” – God is with us. God desires to be, not just with us, but in us, in our hearts. “It is by faith that he dwells in our hearts, in our memory, our intellect and penetrates even into our imagination. What concept could man have of God if he did not first fashion an image of him in his heart?” –Saint Bernard.
It is only by God’s grace that we can fully utilize the great opportunity provided by the season of Advent. We need the wisdom, courage and humility to know and to do what it takes to prepare for the coming of Christ. In the words of St. Anselm, we pray to God: “Teach me to seek you, and when I seek you show yourself to me, for I cannot seek you unless you teach me, nor can I find you unless you show yourself to me.” This is one of the main reasons why I would answer: Yes, we really need the season of Advent.
Rev. Augustine Uchenna Ariwaodo
Parochial Vicar, St. Mary’s Catholic Center
College Station, Texas