Advent – Looking back in order to look forward
BY DCN. JAY W. VANHOOSIER, OFFICE OF FAITH FORMATION
In all the hustle and bustle that is the Christmas season, it is important to remember that, as Catholics, we are spiritually invited to prepare for two very important things. First, we are to reflect on the birth of the Christ child, and second, we are to look to the fulfillment of God’s plan – the second coming of that same Christ and the redemption of the world. The Church teaches us that these two events – one that occurred in the past and one that is yet to come – are intimately connected and that we should prepare for them. We call this period of preparation Advent.
I would like to suggest that Advent encourages us to look back in order to look forward. The celebration of the Incarnation – God becoming man in the most humble of ways – only has meaning and purpose because of the hope and expectation of Christ coming again in victory and glory. Christmas is not an antiseptic remembrance of a thing that occurred long ago, but an efficacious preparation of what is to come!
The season of Advent begins in penitence: its color is violet – the symbol for Christians for preparation and forgiveness. It is a time that we stop and reflect on our lives and take note of the times we have fallen short. However, in this reflection we do not – must not – remain focused on ourselves. This is because Advent urges us to look with joy to God – who is coming to complete his salvation! The hymns and readings we hear during this season are full of this joyous expectation. But it is important for each one of us to remember that we “know neither the day nor the hour.” Advent candles and Advent calendars count down towards the Nativity, but Advent encourages us to not put off preparation to tomorrow but to be ready now.
We ourselves cannot be ready on our own. So, we turn to, and depend on, God’s grace to help us be ready. We are called to prayer and worship. We are called to recognize our dependence on him. We are called to participate in the sacramental life of the Church – especially the Eucharist in which we are fed and in which we look back with a memory that is re-presented in the here and now. This is Advent explained and expressed.
Advent should cause us to adjust our ways of thinking, our attitudes, and the way in which we live our lives. This is because Advent should put these in their proper perspective – namely, they should be seen from their end. We should no longer prepare for promotion, success, or achievement as goals in themselves. No. Promotion, success, or personal achievement are things that should promote Christ’s Kingdom and Christ’s will in the world as everything moves towards their perfection in Christ himself.
For most people, the great symbol of Advent is the increase of light. On an Advent wreath candles are lit in greater number in growing expectation of the End. Advent becomes an extended meditation on the mystery of time. We gaze backward to that wondrous moment of the incarnation – the center point around which world history turns – in order to realize the meaning of the flow of events of human history towards their consummation in Christ.
Thus, Advent is the cure for frenetic cares and icy pessimism. Advent ends in the wondrous celebration of the incarnation – ending at the beginning with restored devotion and promise in the life of Christ.
Dcn. Jay W. VanHoosier is the Director of Faith Formation for the Diocese of Owensboro. For more information visit owensborodiocese.org/faith-formation, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (270) 852-8324.
Originally printed in the December 2021 issue of The Western Kentucky Catholic.