Luke 21:25-28, 34-36, First Sunday of Advent
Advent is the season of preparation for the celebration of Christmas. We prepare for the coming of Christ into our lives by coloring these days with penitential violet and marking our time with moments of hopeful waiting.
Adventus is Latin for “coming”. Even if Christmas comes to us like clockwork, we are asked to reimagine what life would be like had God decided (on a whim, out of spite) to give up on us. Heaven knows we’ve felt this perhaps at several points in our lives, this terrible sense of God giving up on us. Perhaps too the feeling is mutual. We know all too well those moments when we thought of giving up on God. Advent is a retelling of these moments.
Advent is the time to ponder what it would be like to live in an alternate universe of unanswered prayers.
In such a universe, there can only be dismay and confusion and fear, the kind of atmosphere described in the Gospel today. “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on earth nations will be in dismay, perplexed by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.”
Even if there is already fullness in the air (and not just in the malls), this “adventisement” of Christmas is essential. Without Advent, we run the risk of being entranced by colors and lights and all sorts of adverts. Without Advent, we might never come to know and celebrate what or who has come upon the world.
What does it mean to “adventise” our lives in preparation for Christmas? We can start with three simple acts of emptying, longing, and giving.
The emptying begins with confessing that it will take more than just pretty lights and hearty banquets to make us full or whole again. We can start by being honest to ourselves and acknowledging that despite the surface delights that enchant us, we can still remain empty inside. The hollowness can bewitch the best of us but the hunger is just an ache that calls us out of ourselves and rouses us to rid ourselves of the clutter of attachments that weigh us down. The season of Advent is hallowed by emptying.
With the emptying comes the longing. Advent is the time to ponder our truest dreams and desires. Why is it so that we can never satisfy or be satisfied? Why is it never enough? What is it that we long to receive and from who? The longings can frustrate the best of us but they are just prayers that bring us to our knees and crumple the proud of us. After all, we are just creatures incapable of completing ourselves, brought to life out of a greater love, in a creation much grander than we can ever imagine. The season of Advent overflows with longing.
Lastly, we can “adventise” this time of Christmas preparation by learning to find joy again in giving than in receiving. Giving takes practice. We are wired to receive early on from childhood. Somewhere along the way, as we grow old, the gifts for us diminish as the gifts by us increase. This imbalance of payments can depress and exhaust the best of us but in this net loss, we are told, true gain is found. Jesus himself tells us how “it is more blessed to give than receive.” (Acts 20:35) We find happiness in making others happy. Ultimately and subtly, like love, happiness is received when it is given away. The season of Advent rewires us to spend our lives in joyful giving.
Christmas might seem predictable, coming to us like clockwork. Without the “adventisement” of these days of preparation, we run the risk of having the Mystery of the Incarnation papered over with gift wrap. We can “adventise” our lives these days with acts of emptying, longing, and giving. We can reimagine ourselves fumbling about in some dark landscape of unanswered prayers.
Until at last we discover that the only real answer to all our prayers rests in that Child in a manger.