Advent has been distorted by our rampant consumerism. It used to be that prior to the Celebration of the Lord’s Nativity, there were no Christmas parties. Christmas parties for work and other circles were celebrated after Christmas. But this year, I was in Macy’s the day before Halloween and they were decked out for Christmas! I mean, seriously, Christmas on October 30th? 57 days before Christmas? And practically a month before Thanksgiving? We have a crisis amongst believers on what is the spirituality of Advent.
So then, what is the spirit that should animate our celebration of Advent? It should be one of joy! Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI points out that Advent does not mean “expectation” as many think. But rather it means “presence begun” namely, the presence of God himself. We know that God’s presence in the world has already begun and that it has only begun, but not yet complete. Thus Advent reflects the two comings of Christ: the Incarnation and the Final Coming. We live in-the-in between stage where Christ is present with us and yet his coming has only begun. but not yet fulfilled. Pope Benedict points out that Christ wishes to be present to us, His disciples, in a unique way in this in-between stage. As Benedict points out “through our faith, hope, and love, Christ wants his light to shine over and over again into the night of the world.”
Two images or figures dominate the the liturgy of Advent: St. John the Baptist and the Blessed Virgin Mary.
John is placed before us as a type of masculine mission in life. His is the voice of one crying out in the desert, calling each of us to deeper repentance. Pope Benedict points out that “by nature, we are inclined to be always asserting ourselves, repaying in kind, making ourselves the center of attention. If we want to find God, we must be constantly undergoing an interior conversion, turning around and moving in the opposite direction. John himself had to deal with some uncertainty about Jesus. No doubt he identified Him as the Messiah when he pointed his finger proclaiming, “Behold the Lamb of God.” (Jn. 1:29) Yet Jesus was different than John had imagined. In fact he had to send messengers to inquire to Jesus: “Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Mt. 11:3) Christ was different that what was expected of the Messiah. The Advent liturgy invites us to a change our way of seeing things, just as John the Baptist undergoes the very conversion he preaches. The liturgy invites us to hold on to the things of heaven as we walk amid passing things. (Cf. Post-Communion Prayer for the First Sunday of Advent) We will know God to the extent we are set free from ourselves and begin to see with eyes of faith.
The Blessed Virgin Mary is placed before us a type of feminine receptivity. Mary’s hiddenness and humility are raised up for us as an example of fruitfulness. Salvation is a gift from God, not something we can grasp or control and manipulate. From virginity comes forth our Savior. This points to the fact that only God can save us. Salvation is a pure grace, a gift from God. We can only receive it. We cannot manage it. And joy is the fruit of such glad tidings! In a time when we are focused on the New Evangelization, with good cause, we cannot forget that evangelization must flow from an interior joy born of the fruit of our encounter with Jesus of Nazareth. The best method of evangelization is our joy-filled lives. Not some “K-Love joy” that always smiles, but a joy that is interior and that nothing can take away from us. This is the joy of knowing that the Lord is with us, always at our side, and that He will never leave us as orphans or abandon us.
Mary hears Gabriel's first words in the Gospel: "Rejoice!" Joy is the first imperative given in the Gospel. Later Jesus’s first words are, "Repent!" These two words are modeled in the actions of John the Baptist and Mary. They are worth our reflection in preparation for Christmas.
Source: Pope Benedict XVI, “The Meaning of Advent” in Preaching and Dogma: Applying Christian Doctrine to Daily Life (San Francisco, Ignatius Press, 2005).