From Sunday 30th November we enter the season of Advent, and begin Year B of the three-year cycle of Sunday Mass readings.
We always need more. We always want life to get a little better. If we live in the city, we pray that the troublesome kids will grow up or go away. If we work hard for our living, we hope for an economy that gives us a fair share. If we are sensitive to the needs of others, we want justice for them. If we are ill we long to return to the good health we once knew.
That is why our celebration of Christmas seems to begin earlier and earlier each year. It’s the season of peace and goodwill to all, they say. But Father Christmas isn’t bothered about whether we’ve been good, or bad, or naughty or nice. He is only interested in whether we can afford the credit card bill afterwards. So Christmas is about getting what we want, eating what we want, drinking what we want and watching a selection of repeat films while taking tablets for indigestion.
We are caught up and swept along in the national mood. That’s not surprising, for this is the time when, believer or non-believer, we try to show good-will to all; when we celebrate our neighbourliness and express our indebtedness. In reaching out to those who touch our lives throughout the year we dip into the best side of ourselves.
The word ‘Advent’ means ‘He’s coming’. Advent lets us do more or less what everyone else does in December, but it invites us to see in the coming Lord the answer to our dreams. People around us will very likely refer to ’the true meaning of Christmas’. They will perhaps be hoping for a more generous donation to a Christmas charity. They may wish that the abundance of presents might be replaced by a genuine encounter of persons. They may be reminding us that it is better to give than to receive. But the true meaning of Christmas, and of advent, is that Jesus Christ, the son of God, took flesh like ours; fulfilling an impossible promise made in the darkest of human days.
In advent we celebrate the three comings of Christ into our world. At a time when the nation of Israel was broken, destroyed and exiled its religious spokesmen looked ahead to a time when they would return home to enjoy freedom, dignity and the pride of being the Lord’s chosen people. God would send a great messiah-king who would reign in Jerusalem and the men and women of every nation would come to pay him homage.
And so he came, presented as one of the world’s dispossessed, with nowhere to lay his head. And as he went about doing good he became the focus of everyday evil and enmity, carrying it with him to his death and, on his cross, destroying its power over mankind.
Jesus himself looked ahead to a ‘second coming’. It would be a time of mortal danger and impending judgement with alarming warning signs in the heavens and on the earth. God would send the messiah, who would banish evil from the earth and begin the work of a new creation.
Logic tells us that we are ‘already, but not yet’ in the new creation. Jesus came in the flesh. No dream is foolish, for nothing is impossible to God. He has not yet come the second time, but the work of the end-times has begun. With each of his followers he has shared his Spirit through Baptism. Together, as a church-community we are the Body of Christ. Through us he continues the destruction of evil and the re-planting of the good. Through us, hopes and dreams should come true. When all is ready, Jesus will come again.
So, in the four weeks of Advent we remember that we are at the heart of God’s plan to renew the world and part of the means by which he will achieve it. When we come together for Mass the predominant colour on priest and altar is purple, the colour of ancient royalty. We use it because we are ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people set apart,’ and we put on our best clothes, for the Master is coming.
Contributed by Fr Paul Hardy
Click here for information on the Advent Wreath.