Why does the Church take us through the same advent ritual every year? Well, it is a period to contemplate the three comings of Christ in: a) History, 2000 years ago, when God stepped out of eternity to become one like us in everything but sin. b) Mystery –through his abiding presence in Word and Sacrament, grace and communion. c) Glory, when he comes at the end of time to pronounce the Last Judgment. Ours in the closing age of human history, which will culminate in Christ’s splendid Parousia, the overthrow of the present world order, and the inauguration of a new heaven and earth where Christ reigns supreme. Advent is a time to reflect on these imminent scenarios!
Another thing about Advent is the liturgical colour of purple that is used every day, except on one Sunday, during the season. It is not an accident that purple is the same colour used for Lent because during Advent we remember the thousands of years that humanity wallowed in the darkness of sin before the coming of Christ. Advent is also a time to reflect on the current sorrows of human existence and our frantic longing for the coming of Christ’s kingdom. Thus, the sight of the purple should always remind us of the pitiable condition of mankind before the Incarnation of Christ, and what misery our life today is without him. That’s what Advent is all about!
In today’s First Reading, Isaiah says twice, “Lord, you are our Father.” This is an invitation for us to reflect on the fatherhood of God in our lives. God is our Father, who is always looking after us, protecting us, and loving us. Unlike our human fathers, God’s fatherly love has no limits, no imperfections, and no blind spots. Advent is a time to renew our awareness of God’s perfect Fatherhood in our lives, letting his love renew our spirits. The best way to do this is to spend more time with God in prayer during this time. But that will be impossible unless something else happens first. Prayer is always a profound experience: even though we cannot see God with our physical eyes or hear him with our physical ears, when we turn our attention to him, he really is present, and we know it. And as we become aware of this presence, we are instantaneously struck by a sense of our unworthiness before him. Because God is truth, the light of his presence will always penetrate all the dark corners of our heart. Thus, as soon as we approach his presence in prayer, any un-repented and unconfessed sin, hateful feeling or sinful inclination in our life will come into view and become a distraction, making it imperative for us to repent and seek forgiveness. Advent is time for repentance and reconciliation!
Another challenge for us this Advent is to cultivate a sense of the reason for the season. We need to always bear in mind that we are preparing to celebrate the birth of our Saviour even as we ready ourselves for his glorious return in the fullness of time. The more conscious we become of this the greater our mindfulness of the obstacles to a fruitful Christmas – mainly our sinful habits and inordinate attachments. When we lose sight of the reason for the season, it becomes easy to give in to indifference or spiritual apathy. That in turn could lead to a secular view of Advent and Christmas. Without a sound spiritual underpinning, Advent becomes an end in itself – a season for buying new things, many of which are not really needed. It could also become merely a time for weddings, memorials, and masquerade festivals. Without a clear spiritual foundation, Advent and Christmas become a celebration of sheer consumerism.
This is the reason Jesus says to us in the Gospel passage: “Be watchful! Be alert!” (Mk. 13:33). Approaching the season of Advent with a materialistic mentality detracts us from the spiritual bounties of such a wonderful period of grace. If we do not gain the full spiritual benefits of Advent, it would not be because God did not make enough provisions, but rather because we failed to open our hearts and minds to his transforming love. The story is told of an expedition undertaken by a team of Russians and Americans during the Cold War. One of the food items on board was Russian black bread, very tasty but hard to chew. Once during a meal, an American took a bite and broke a tooth. He threw the bread overboard and shouted: “Lousy Communist bread.” And quickly the Russian responded: “Not lousy Communist bread but rotten Capitalist tooth.” When we do not experience the transforming power of Advent, it is not because of a lousy provision by the Lord but due to our rotten faith and sinfulness. Therefore, let this be a time of renewal and transformation for all of us. The love of God is out there blazing like the sun – we only need to spread out our damp clothes of sin and everything will be dried.
That is why it is such a brilliant idea to start our Advent with the Sacrament of Reconciliation, to lay it all out before the Father of mercies. That will ensure that all the strongholds in our hearts – those sinful habits and attachments that seem impossible to overcome – will tumble and melt away under the light of God’s healing love. There’s hardly a better way to start our journey towards Christmas. Jesus is eagerly waiting to forgive, heal and transform us today in the sacrament. As Scripture makes emphatically clear: “For I know the thoughts that I think towards you, says the LORD, thought of peace, and not of affliction, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jer. 29:11). Let this be our prayer today and may the blessings of Advent be ours in full measure. Amen!