Today we begin Advent, the beginning of a new liturgical year. It’s the Church’s new year. So “happy new year!”
During Advent we look forward toChristmas, just as we look forward to various other events like birthdays, graduation, a ski holiday, a visit home. Kids especially are looking forward to Christmas—as one of the secular Christmas songs says: “kids from 1 to 92.”
We do many things to prepare for Christmas. We write Christmas cards, buy gifts and decorations, put up the tree maybe, and lay out a manger scene. Maybe we need tickets or reservations to join the family somewhere. These things preoccupy us and we need reminders of what it’s all about as we get pulled forward into the future.
So Advent reminds us of two things. It refreshes our memory of a past gift and prepares us for a future promise.
The past gift is the great gift of God coming to live among us because he wanted to be here with us. We’ll go through this again on Christmas night as we recall what happened over 2000 years ago. But we do not have to go back 2000 years to find Jesus. Advent helps make us more and more aware that Jesus is already here with us now. Today.
Jesus is here with us today as our Advent liturgy reminds us also of a future promise. We look forward to Christmas not only as the memory of a wonderful event in the past, but we are challenged to look at Christmas as the promise of an even more glorious future coming of Jesus, which we prepare for now in our daily lives. The past and the future put the spotlight onto the present—so that, as St Paul says, we may “give up all the things we prefer to do under cover of the dark … and live decently as people do in the daytime.”
Paul urges us to behave now in a way pleasing to God, giving birth to Jesus in ourselves and in our society, letting him use our talents, our heads and our hands to make the world a better place for all—by turning our “swords into ploughs,” taking the wealth used to produce weapons of mass destruction and using it instead to foster basic needs of food for all, clean air and clean water, so that—as the prophet Isaiah says—“nation will not lift sword against nation and there will be no more training for war.” We are not truly followers of Jesus if we do not look at people and events as Jesus does—if we are not sufficiently concerned about human suffering—if we do not have compassion for real people in their real situations and do not do what we can to help them when they are hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, strangers or outcasts.
This is how we “stay awake” so that we will always be readyto welcome the Son of Man when he comes quite unexpectedly—not only at the end of our individual life—but in the various challenges of everyday life. Advent reminds us that something new began 2000 years ago. It also reminds us that it will all reach its completion sometime in the future. But we don’t live in the past or the future. We live right here, right now. Whatever time of day it is, now is the time to meet Jesus and, wherever we may be, day or night, that is the place to meet Jesus. We meet Jesus today, every day, in the people around us, especially in those who need our help. Advent reminds us that that is where to look for the coming of Jesus.
by Robert Chiesa, SJ