16 December 2010

Advent: Good to the Last Drop

First Sunday of Advent
            When I was still in school, this was a very treacherous time of the year.  Not because of the ice, not because of the snow, but simply because, despite what science may say, a time warp seems to happen.  It doesn’t matter that just the week before each minute of the day seemed to go as quickly as molasses in the wintertime.  As soon as Thanksgiving passed there was never enough time in the day to get everything done.  All you have to do is blink, and then finals are here, and then you blink again and Christmas is here.
            Advent surely is a quick-moving season.  It’s only four weeks long.  And yet, the Church asks us to prepare for two great mysteries: the coming of Christ at the end of time (what our readings focused on this week) and the coming of Christ in the fullness of time at the first Christmas (what our readings will focus on as we get closer to the day of Christmas).  These are no small mysteries, and yet it is so hard to actually get ready for them.
            Because, besides the religious season, there’s also the secular season, which actually began November 1, All Saints day, but which kicks into high gear after Thanksgiving: the office or school Christmas parties; the shopping for gifts; the sending of cards; and the list goes on.  If we are not purposeful about Advent, it slips right past us and we don’t have the proper time to prepare for Christmas.  We can become like the people in the days of Noah, who “were eating and drinking…up to the day that Noah entered the ark” and not know that Advent is here until it’s gone.  Christmas can become as much a surprise (even though we know the day!) as the Second Coming of Christ at the end of time.
            So how do we make this a purposeful season?  How to we make sure that we can enjoy every drop of Advent so that we are prepared for the Second Coming of Christ and Christ?  How do we not let the season pass us by?
            Well, I could tell you all to not listen to any Christmas music, and to make a huge new schedule of prayer, and to draw away from the world.  And all of those things are good, and if you can, wonderful.
            But, for those of us who can only take baby steps, consider the following options for fully getting into Advent:
1.    1.      Try to incorporate more silence into your life, even if it’s just a few minutes.  It could be turning off the radio in the car, taking 5 minutes before Mass to silently pray, setting aside a few minutes at home where the TV is off, the computer is not logged in, and you can just focus on listening to God.  This is a good practice because it was in the silence of the night at Bethlehem that Jesus was born, and it is in the silence that God often speaks to us.
2.     2.     Utilize a home Advent wreath.  Even if you just take four candles and put them in a circular shape, and light them for a few minutes at dinner, it’s a great way to remember the progression of Advent and the coming (or advent) of the true Light of the World, Jesus, by lighting one candle for the first week of Advent, two for the second, and so on.
3.     3.     Make sure we confess our sins and receive sacramental absolution.  In order to receive the full graces that God wants to bestow upon us, our souls have to be cleansed from the sin that blocks the reception of those graces.  We can go to the usual reconciliation schedule, or go to the regional Communal Penance Service (and believe me, I remember the joy of knowing that I was confessing to a priest that I would never see again until Lent) and maybe start a habit of going more often, which is never a bad thing (because even with a priest we know, he can’t say anything or act any differently based upon something he learned in confession).
4.    4.      Invite someone you know who’s Catholic, but maybe you haven’t seen them at Church in a while, to come to Mass with you.  It might mean you have to pick them up on your way here, but what a great way to prepare for Jesus who came to earth to save you by inviting others to the banquet of salvation and help them prepare for Christmas as well.  And, if you’re not comfortable asking them to join you for Mass, then even just to pray for them to come back to the Church.  Advent is a great time of grace to recognize the Messiah, Emmanuel, God-With-Us.  Our prayers that others might know how close God is to them are always heard, but especially during this time of year.
     There are other good practices as well, like reading Advent reflections, and many others that your family might have as a usual Advent practice.  But the point is that we have this short, but powerful, four weeks of Advent to prepare for Jesus.  Let’s really makes sure that it doesn’t pass us by because we’re too busy to get ready for Jesus.  If there’s anyone for whom we should be preparing this Advent, no one is more important than Jesus.  And, as a great gift, if we do prepare for Jesus, then our Christmas celebrations will be even better, because we will not be caught off-guard, but will be ready to greet Jesus and will say with all our hearts, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”