Author: Jenny O'Brien
In 4th century Rome, the Church year began on Christmas day, the day of Christ’s birth. By the 7th century, however, the Church year began with the First Sunday of Advent, four weeks prior to Christmas.
What is ‘Advent’ all about? Despite popular opinion, it is much more than getting ready to commemorate Christ’s birth and being busy with preparations for present-giving and Christmas dinner!
The word advent means ‘coming’ and in the context of the Christian faith always refers to Christ. However, there are two ‘comings’ that we celebrate in Advent: his coming into the world as the Word of God made flesh and his coming again in glory at the end of time. We are living in the time between these two comings and as followers of Christ we are called to reflect on the great mystery of his incarnation (becoming human like us) and to look forward to eternal glory.
In fact, both these aspects are present in the readings for the First Sunday of Advent. The prophet Isaiah implores God the Father to ‘tear the heavens open and come down’ while St Paul reminds the Church at Corinth to be ‘steady and without blame until the last day…while [they] are waiting for the Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed’. In the Gospel reading Jesus himself warns his disciples to be on their guard and stay awake, since they do not know when the master of the house is coming. While the Jewish people of Old Testament times were waiting for the Messiah, we in the 21st century are waiting for Christ to come again at the end of time. We can look forward to this ‘day of judgment’ without fear, however, because we know that the heart of Christ is full of love and compassion, and his greatest hope is that one day we will all be united with him in the eternal joy that we call heaven.
The second and third Sundays of Advent feature St John the Baptist with his message to ‘prepare a way for the Lord’. Since we do not have to prepare a way for his birth, we must concentrate on preparing a way for his coming in glory. The second readings for both these Sundays urge us to ‘live holy and saintly lives while [we] wait and long for the Day of the Lord to come’, and to let ‘the peace of God make [us] perfect and holy’.
It is only the last Sunday of Advent that we focus on the birth of Christ. We might think it is strange that the first reading tells how King David wished to build a temple as a dwelling place for God on earth. However, it makes sense when we hear the gospel, which recounts how the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary to announce that it was God’s desire that her very body should become the dwelling place for God’s Son, Jesus. Despite being deeply disturbed by the words of the angel, Mary nevertheless willingly accepted what God wanted for her.
Let us set aside a few moments each day to thank God for the historical ‘advent’ of Christ among us 2000 years ago, and to look to our everyday lives to discover how we can make them more ‘holy and saintly’ so that we will be ready join the eternal banquet when that day comes.