The Essence of Advent: Forging A Right Path for God’s Coming
For us Christians, we consider Christmas as the wonderful time of the year as we commemorate the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. More than its spiritual significance, the reality is that we are more focused on the things we see and hear around the corner – in super mega malls and homes brimming with twinkling lights and decorations; people shopping for holiday gifts, and the classic Christmas songs playing on the airwaves and the like. All of these provide some seasonal cheer, a jovial mood and a bright yet cozy vibe to the environment — as in, everywhere we go, it’s looking a lot like Christmas already! But it isn’t yet, we’re still under Advent! As such, wouldn’t it be nice if we likewise prepare and forge a right path for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ?
Based on the Liturgical Year (Church calendar), the season of Advent comes first before Christmas. Some of us are of the impression that “Advent” is merely one of the activities of the Church, a part of the long Christmas celebration such as the lighting of candles of the Advent wreath, the 9-day Advent Novena, also known as the “Simbang Gabi, among others. But there’s so much more to it that we don’t realize! Advent season is separate and distinct from Christmas. In fact, the celebration of Advent takes longer (roughly 4 weeks, from Nov.27 – Dec. 24) than that of Christmas season (about 2 weeks, from Dec. 25 to the feast of Baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ) primarily to provide us ample time to prepare, watch and pray and get our houses in order, so to speak, for the Lord’s coming. As St. Matthew puts it: “Stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come.”
The Gospel readings of the four Sundays of Advent speak of preparations. It basically tells us to “be prepared, to pray, to repent and forgive and, most of all, to stay awake”. I recall, one of the kids asked me about this in class: Why do we have to do that? Why would there be so many requirements for the preparation? After briefly explaining to them that the word “coming” does not only refer to the joyful preparation for the celebration of the birth of Jesus at Christmas (the First Coming) but the Last Judgment (the Second Coming) as well which is yet to come, that’s when/where the kids only realized about the essence of celebrating Advent and its importance in their spiritual life. We don’t have an inkling on when the Second Coming will happen. And since no one knows when will it come, the Church is encouraging everyone to be spiritually prepared, to stay awake, and to patiently wait for our Lord, and to try our best to stay away from sin and to make good in our dealings with others.
As we don’t have the time frame of God’s second coming, we have to keep watching. Even St. Paul tells us in one of his letters, “Be alert, be awake”, and to “stand firm” in the faith, At present, we are in a world that is filled with misery and uncertainty, a world that is out of whack, out of balance, and where there is a struggle in choosing between the culture of death and culture of life, and where people are doing strange scary things, and thinking these are all good and acceptable. That’s why, that is why, there’s a need for us to stay awake and be mindful of what’s happening around us and in everything we do, regardless of the timing. Advent serves as a wakeup call for us to stay alert, and vigilant in our life of faith, as we don’t have any idea when the time comes. Pope Francis, the Holy Father, in one of his previous tweets stated that: Advent is the time when we “journey towards Jesus and His Kingdom”. Journeying towards God’s Kingdom is choosing to be closer to God, and that would require us to open our eyes wide and look back on what happened in our pasts and reflect on what God expects from us to do. And so, if we are still in our comfort zones, not giving up our complicities and those things that destroy us personally and ultimately our society such as addiction, drunkenness, adultery and lust, which break up families, it is timely and prudent to wake up now from these evil doings and spiritual slumbers. What have been enumerated earlier are only examples of frailties happening in our world today. Likewise, in other aspects of daily life, there is proliferation of fake news and cyberbullying in social media and polarization in the society not only in politics but even in small units such as families, among others. We all know that God from the very beginning of existence wants us to be good in everything: in thought, in word and in deed. But because of the uncertainties in life and the unfortunate events that come our way, we stumble and fall. And this is where and how Advent plays a crucial role in our spiritual journey to God’s Kingdom.
As Catholic Christians, we prepare for the arrival of our Savior. To celebrate Jesus’ birthday, we decorate our homes in advance, we share our blessings to family and friends and give donations especially to those in need. And most of all, we want to please God by looking our very best not only on the outside but also on the inside. We strive hard to live in a manner worthy of being called a Christian. Same thing happens when we’re expecting guests in our homes. We prepare for their arrival and make a way for them to feel welcome, happy and comfortable during their stay. Hence, the more that we have to strive hard to serve and follow God as part of our preparations for His coming.
Advent is a grace-filled season; it is a blessing to all of us as we are given the opportunity to start fresh and begin a new life. When we stumble, we ask God’s forgiveness through the Sacrament of Penance and because of that, we feel something new and start with a clean slate in our life. It is a strong invitation for us to start over and over again so as to go on with our journey and live our faith better, hopefully as much better followers of Christ. And that is the beauty of Advent!
The light of the candle of the Advent wreath is a beacon of hope for everyone. It is about God’s promise of unconditional love, unending hope and eternal life. We have to be watchful especially on the lures and temptations of people with evil thoughts and desires that are being sent into the world daily. We must have full trust in God’s Word because He knows everything, who we are and He knows the best of everything, the best for us. That’s the message for us and we need to keep it straight in our hearts.
When God allowed Himself to live like us on earth is a proof of His greatest love for us and this is the greatest gift that God gave to mankind. All we have to do is accept this gift by placing all our faith, love and trust in Him. And so, we have to put our world into its proper perspective by not being attached to or enamored of the values and temporal satisfaction of this world, of this passing world. So, let’s focus on the glory of God, His love for us, and in return, let us be more faithful to Him, so as not to become embedded in this world but to look forward to a world that is the ultimate reality.
If we don’t feel God’s love, we have to look and find Him. Pope Francis stated that if we want to find God, we have to “seek Him where he is hidden: in the neediest, the hungry, the imprisoned, the sick….”. If we are unable to visit them physically for some reasons, we can pray for them, we can cheer them up through messages, we can offer donations, for those who need it most. We only have to follow God’s lead because He’ll draw us closer to Him. And in doing so, God will guide and inspire us with a joyful heart and in the end be spiritually fit and ready to face even in the midst of darkest days. Without God in our lives, life has no purpose and ultimate meaning.
And if and when we find God and feel His love, we must share it to others because this will make our paths brighter and straighter, paving the way for Jesus’ coming in our lives not only during Advent and Christmas seasons but through the rest of our lives.
Have a grace-filled, joyful and meaningful Advent and Christmas to you all. May our Almighty God grant us the joy of His salvation. Amen. O Holy Mary, our hope, handmaid of the Lord, pray for us. Jesus, King of Mercy, we trust in You. Amen.
Note: This article has also been published in a Filipino Catholic magazine abroad, authored by the same person.