Lift Up Your Hearts: Advent Begins

I hope everyone had a safe and wonderful Thanksgiving. I love Thanksgiving.

It just seems to be a day of all of my favorite things: faith, family, food, fun and football, and, yes, in that order, and, I forgot to mention the potato peeling. I’m sure that this years celebrations were a little different for many. Again, I pray that all of you were safe and that you remain healthy.

This weekend we begin the first week of Advent. This means a new Liturgical year has started. Advent is a season of preparation. We prepare ourselves both materially and spiritually for the coming of the Christmas season. You may or may not be aware that the Christmas season actually begins on Christmas day and extends into early January. Traditionally, the Christmas season went all the way to the feast of the Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple, which falls on Feb. 2. So while it’s fun that the Disney and Hallmark have been playing Christmas movies since October, stores have had their Christmas sections up since after school started, and all the radio stations begin playing Christmas music this week, these things can only help us to prepare on a material level. The season of Advent helps us to prepare for Christmas on a spiritual level. It is a season where we prepare to celebrate what Christmas is all about, the coming of Christ, our Savior and Lord.

The word advent means the “arrival” or the “coming” of something or someone significant. During the Season of Advent we prepare to celebrate the coming of Christ. You might be surprised to know, however, that it is not just a season to celebrate the birthday of Christ in history over 2000 years ago. This is certainly the first reason that we celebrate, but there are other reasons as well. In fact, it is a season that helps us to celebrate and prepare for three different “advents” or “comings” of Christ.

The first coming of Christ that we celebrate is, as we said, the actual birthday of Christ in history. This is the moment that God was born into our world, took on human flesh and became a new born baby. Of course, we know all the Gospel stories we have been told so many times. We remember the manger in Bethlehem, the shepherds, Mary and Joseph, the Angels and the Wisemen coming to see Jesus. This is the moment of history that sets in motion the saving work of God. We celebrate this coming of Christ with great joy as the Angel choirs did on the first Christmas night.

The second coming of Christ that we prepare for and celebrate is the coming of Christ in mystery. Because Christ, God made man, was born in time and gave his life for us, he can come to us now in many mysterious ways. By “mystery” I mean the presence of God’s grace here and now. We celebrate the ways that Jesus gives us His grace and leads us to transformation. In particular we remember the gifts of His own life in the Sacraments. These are moments of saving grace that allow us access to the very presence and life of God. In particular we can think of the Sacrament of the Eucharist in which we have the fullness of Christ’s presence, body, blood, soul and divinity. What a powerful gift!

The third coming of Christ that we prepare for and celebrate is the coming of Christ in majesty. This refers to His second coming at the end of time. We believe that He will come again, and this time He will establish definitively His kingdom where there will be no more sin, no more suffering, and no more death. He will reign supreme and God will be all in all. In this weekend’s readings the Lord reminds us of this coming saying “Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come … Watch, therefore; you do not know when the lord of the house is coming, whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning. May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping. What I say, I say to all: Watch!” (Mark 13:33-37).

The three “advents” build on one another because we are celebrating one person, Jesus Christ. He is the one who came to the world in history, and has given us a way to receive His mysterious presence through His cross, resurrection and His Church. His coming in mystery through grace is what we should always strive to welcome in our hearts. For when He comes in majesty He will judge us on how well we received Him, how well we live for Him, and how well we allowed the mysterious presence of His grace to transform us.

Perhaps this gives you a new perspective on the celebration of Christmas. I hope it does. As the whole story of Christ is a story of love, joy and hope, we want to embrace it with great faith. The more we do the more we will experience the transformation He came to give us by His birth. So, take this Advent season and prepare, not just your home, your yard, and your hearth, but most importantly, prepare your heart. Take time to meditate on the love and forgiveness that Christ has come to give, offer repentance for the times that you have failed to live the graces and the blessings given. Ask forgiveness for the moments when you did not recognize the ways that Jesus was coming to you mysteriously and offering you His graces. Ask Him to fill you with the freedom and peace that that are yours for the taking so that your celebration of Christmas might take on a completely new meaning. Search His wonderful Advent, preparing to celebrate His coming into your heart.