“In this year, we need the message of Advent even more than ever.”
As I written here before, Advent is my favorite liturgical season. There are many reasons for this, and part of it is probably the same reason that I intentionally chose orange to be my favorite color when I was in eighth grade – it seemed neglected and in need of a fan.
Advent is the most counter-cultural season we celebrate. People look at me askance when I don’t start listening to Christmas music the day after Halloween or put up my tree the day after Thanksgiving. Am I a grinch that hates Christmas? Of course not. I love Christmas – and that’s why it’s worth waiting for.
Our world doesn’t know how to wait. It doesn’t know how to postpone answering immediate wants and desires. Is it easy to postpone celebrating? Of course not. But it’s a small reminder to us that the story of my life is much bigger than my pleasure here on earth. Believe me, when Christmas rolls around, I enjoy it as much as the next person – and probably a little more. Because the only person who can truly feast is the one who has fasted.
There are abundant graces during the Advent season. There are joys around every corner. But they are too often sacrificed out of impatience.
This year in particular, I hope we don’t waste Advent. It’s clear the world has decided to embrace Christmas now because we are tired of 2020. There has been so much penance and darkness of 2020, maybe we feel like we’ve already been in Advent for months. As I wrote back in the spring, our Lent turned to Advent as we sat and waited for an end to the pandemic. That end never came, and now we wait for 2020 to just be over.
But in this year, we need the message of Advent even more than ever. The readings at Mass are endlessly reminding us that there is an answer to the darkness and emptiness. This Sunday, the first reading gives us the great message of comfort from the prophet Isaiah. Perhaps these prophecies have lacked energy and significance in the past. If we are already comfortable and content (and yes, if we’re already celebrating Christmas), it is harder to stir up a longing for a Savior.
This year has shown us we need a Savior. And I pray it has also reminded us that we have a Savior. Not a political party or an activist movement, not a candidate for office, a judge, a scientist or a philanthropist. At various times, people have tried to tell us that any one of these were our savior of the year.
As we wait in the darkness of 2020, do not lose sight of the Messiah. For these four weeks, we place ourselves in the shoes of our ancestors under the Old Covenant, who were waiting for the Messiah. Advent puts us into that time of expectation, that time of waiting, that time of preparation. After four weeks of waiting – if we have really waited well – the words that greet us during the Church’s liturgy on Christmas night might bring joyful tears to our eyes: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone…”
Feel the emptiness that the Christ child has come to fill. Yearn for an answer to our inadequacy. Get some glimpse of what the Jewish people longed for centuries. All they could do was wait. The prophets foretold a Savior, a Messiah who would free them from this emptiness. But all they could do was wait in hope. All they could do was cling to the hope. It’s like sitting in the darkness, in the middle of the night, and watching intently to see the first sign of the sunrise. You stare in the darkness, squint towards the horizon, and wait.
Join me in waiting. Do not allow yourself to be distracted by false Messiahs. On the other hand- and just as importantly- do not allow the darkness to cripple you. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).
We do not wait in anxiety or fear. We do not let the wickedness of the world rob us of our peace. “Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish” (2 Peter 3:14). We wait in blessed hope. Over the new few weeks, turn up your prayer life a notch. Turn to God a little more frequently these days and ask him to stir up within you the peace and comfort that only he can give. Do not let the world steal that away.
Don’t waste this Advent.
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