Another new Church year. Another Advent. Another reminder to be patient, watch, and wait. As I type that, I can almost feel the heaviness set in with a sigh. Why do we do this dance every year? Why go around in this timeless circle through each passing year? Why continue to follow a calendar that is so out of step (out of date!) with the rest of the culture and the rest of the world? Why worry if stores start putting Christmas decorations out on November 1, accompanied by the incessant and tiresome carols (at least, they have become tiresome by the time you have returned from four hours in a packed shopping mall on the day after Thanksgiving!)? We have to work so hard to hang on to what has been handed down through centuries in the face of what will be obsolete by next year. Is it worth it?
I contend that it is. What can Christmas mean in the absence of Advent? Can it mean anything more than the nostalgia we have built and the family gatherings and the food and the shopping and the decorations (none of which are bad, of course)? If we are waiting not merely for Christmas, but for Christ, then we need Advent, because it teaches us to keep awake, be ready, watch, be on our guard. Advent teaches us, as the forerunner of the Messiah, not to get caught up in everything that so easily distracts. Advent, along with the entire Church year, is not just one more tool to form our own spiritualities; it, rather, is a tool shaped by the generations that have preceded us, to form Christians by the life of the One whose Name we bear. We are taught to wait and to pray, “Come, Lord Jesus” (Advent); to celebrate His coming in the flesh (the single, truly human Man in whose Image we are made–Christmas); to proclaim Him as the Savior of all nations and all peoples (Epiphany); to mourn our sin which caused our death and His (Lent); to rejoice in Resurrection and to long for its fullness to be revealed (Easter); to know He reigns in power from the Right Hand of God (Ascension); to rejoice in the gift of the Holy Spirit to those who believe and are baptized (Pentecost); and, finally, to work through the consequences of Christ’s life in and through us as members of His Body (the season after Pentecost). We have not seen with physical eyes the redemption of our bodies, the hope in which we were saved; the whole creation groans in longing for the sons of God to be revealed. We have all things in Christ, but we are still being transformed into the full Image. The Church year teaches us both to celebrate our redemption and to long for its consummation. May it be that for you this year.
*St. Augustine (354-430 AD), Bishop of Hippo in North Africa, said, “For you I am a bishop [overseer]; with you I am a Christian.”