I always wondered about the repeated traditions of preparing for Christmas during Advent each year. We go to confession once at the very least, read scripture that leads us to His birthday, take special care in choosing certain gifts for certain people and decorate our homes to reflect this season that is fast coming upon us. I took all the steps necessary to prepare yet I never really found a place in my heart for the message of Advent.
I read somewhere that the years just prior to our Lord's coming there was a great sense of anticipation in Israel for the promised messiah. So much so that Jewish maidens would ask themselves if they were the ones who were to be chosen to bring him into the world. Throughout the years leading up to the birth of Jesus, God was preparing His people for His coming into the world and when He finally showed up only a handful recognized Jesus for who He really was: God.
I finally realized and came to the conclusion that our preparations for Advent are not only to remember and celebrate Christmas, a day that started it all 2000 years ago, but all the Advent preparations and celebrations of Christmas we have been going through all of our lives are really practice drills for a reality that will come for all of us at some point or another.
Though there are many layers of understanding in what Advent means for each one of us as individuals, what we do share in common is that Advent prepares us for His coming and I'm not just talking about Christmas each year. In all of our Advents during our lifetime, we have been practicing for the time when we meet Him face to face. We will all die at some point and meet our creator and for some of us it will be sooner than later and at some final point in the world's history, those of us who are left on earth will witness Jesus' second coming.
We all sense an anticipation not unlike 2000 years ago when Mary was being prepared to bring God to us. We live in a chaotic world where things seem topsy turvy as if all hell has broken loose upon the earth and nothing seems anchored in absolute truth. It would be easy to lose hope if that is all we see when we look at the world around us. Israel was also surrounded by a godless society, yet in that little pocket of the backwash village of Nazareth, hope and faith had endured and changed the world.
Those of us faithful Catholics who feel abandoned and alone in a society determined to extinguish faith and hope in God should take heart. In our own little backwash villages of our souls there is still a flame, dim though it may be for some, ready for the bellows of heaven to inflame it. A true Advent preparation has to begin in our souls and not in a tree or other decorations. What happens in our homes during Advent should reflect the conversion that is occurring within us. The darker our world becomes the brighter this flame will be visible to those around us.
The Church has given us the season of Advent to prepare for Christmas, but that is only the official recognition of an advent that should be occurring in each of us all year long. Let me put it this way so that it may be easier to understand. If December 25, 2012 was to be YOUR last day in this world, what would Advent be like for you as you prepare for the few weeks leading up to that day? If this year's Christmas is to be your last day on earth, would you be concerned with baking cookies, scurrying around finding that perfect gift and getting the best price on a tree? Would you venture out on Black Friday, a day that is a contradiction of the Gospel message, just to jostle others around you as you lunge for that item you just have to have in your possession? What would all of the above do to prepare us for our final day?
Do not misunderstand. Decorating our homes, taking time to find a gift to those we love and finally, going to Mass to celebrate the birth of our Messiah are important as part of the preparations we make during Advent, but we have a tendency to go overboard. When Advent begins this year, remember this. His coming for you as an individual may occur at any point and day, whether it is on the first Sunday of Advent, the second, at Christmas or 40 years down the road. We just don't know.
Winter reflects my own timeline in life and its bleakness the world in which I find myself. I sorely need a true Advent in my life. I've just gone through another birthday and I have been told that I have many years left. Maybe so but I really hope not for I long for that Christmas Day when Jesus comes again, this time for me and takes me home where I belong. And when I do go home, I want to present one gift to my Father; a soul that is pleasing to him. My hope this Advent is to prepare that gift. It is all I have to give that is worth giving and I want to be ready to present it to Him..