Today is the first Sunday of Advent, the start of the new Church year. Today is New Year’s Day, and is our big chance for a do-over if there is something in our faith life that needs adjusting. It is coincidence that it falls on December first, because according to the liturgical calendar of the Church, Advent can fall as early as November 28th, and as late as December 3rd. But by hitting on December 1st, it makes for the perfect use all those great Advent calendars with the chocolate inside! I’m kidding of course, but only a little. Chocolate, like prayer, is always appropriate.
What is Advent?
According to the General Norms for the Liturgical Year and the Calendar:
Advent has a twofold character:
• as a season to prepare for Christmas when Christ’s first coming to us is remembered;
• as a season when that remembrance directs the mind and heart to await Christ’s Second Coming at the end of time.
Advent is thus a period for devout and joyful expectation [Norms 39].
But What Does Advent Mean to Me?
First and foremost, Advent should be about getting ready. Not for family coming over, or cocktail parties with the neighbors, a white elephant gift exchange at work, or even decorating the house with bright lights and a blow up Nativity on the front lawn. No, Advent is about getting ready for the coming of Christ – the baby Jesus, and the risen Lord. Of course it’s easy to prepare for the Christ Child. Who doesn’t love the story of Mary and Joseph having to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem to be counted in the census, and after finding no room in any of the hotels or inns, were forced to bed down in a cave with the animals from the fields? Who doesn’t love the symbolism of the newborn Christ child being laid in the manger to “lay his sweet head”? What better place for the Bread of Life to sleep than a feeding trough for the least among us!
But Advent 2.0 is also on the horizon, and sometimes we forget that. The second coming of Christ is just as important as the first, and could happen next year, next month, next week or maybe even tonight. If Jesus showed up tonight, would we recognize him? If Jesus returned to the throne as the King of Kings would he recognize us? I’d like to think so, and even though I know that Christ loves me, I also know that I could do a better job of serving like Him, loving like Him. That’s the awesome thing about Advent. It’s the perfect time to regroup, rethink, and relax.
Spend Some Time in the Word
So how do we prepare for Advent 2.0? I like to start by spending some time reading the Bible. The Christmas stories are beautiful in their simplicity, and by reminding myself of how God uses the most unremarkable people to do remarkable things I have hope renewed that God can use me too. I’m not too broken. I’m not too weak. I’m not too much of a nothing to God.
But don’t stop with the Christmas stories. Read the verses from the lectionary for the season of Advent. They don’t even talk about Bethlehem or the Magi. Instead they tell the story of the Son of Man, and what life will be like when he comes. This year (Year A, a subject for another post) we hear from Isaiah, Matthew, Judges, Numbers, Romans and others. For information on the readings for the entire season of Advent, download a copy of the 2014 Liturgical Calendar from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. It has the each Mass reading, each solemnity, and every Hol, Judges, Numbers, Romans and others. For information on the readings for the entire season of Advent, download a copy of the 2014 Liturgical Calendar from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. It has each Mass reading, each solemnity, and every Holy Day of Opportunity (Obligation) for the entire year, beginning with the first Sunday of Advent, December 1st.
New Year’s Resolutions
And what would New Year’s Day be without a few Resolutions. Here are mine:
• For the upcoming year, I will pray as the Spirit moves me, not according to a schedule, not according to the expectations of others, but according to the words of my heart placed there by Christ
• For the upcoming year, I will write every day, sharing my faith using the talents bestowed on me by God
• For the upcoming year, I will love as Christ loved, serve as Christ served.
Notice I did not say “try” to do any of those things. Too many times I think we try things, when we really just need to do them. So to quote Yoda, there is no “try”, only “do”.