Last Sunday, the Church began the season of Advent: a time of spiritual preparation for Christmas. While all around us, the culture has started to celebrate Christmas early—with Christmas decorations, parties, carols, and cookies—the Church waits and enters into this time of expectation, inviting Catholics to be ready for Jesus when He comes.
The word Advent derives from the Latin for coming, adventus, and this season is about Jesus’ coming to us in the past, present, and future. In anticipation of Christmas, we remember the Incarnation of Jesus—His becoming man and dwelling among us. We also reflect on what Jesus’ Incarnation means for us. He came to save us from our sins and give us eternal life through His death on the cross. Therefore, Advent is a season of gratitude for what Jesus did for us out of His great love.
The Old Testament readings at Mass and the hymns we sing during Advent, such as “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” remind us that for many years, the Jewish people waited for the Messiah who would be their Savior. Mary spoke of this in her Magnificat when she proclaimed about God: “He has come to the help of his servant Israel, for he has remembered his promise of mercy, the promise he made to our fathers, to Abraham and his children forever.” (Lk 13:54-55) Zechariah prophesied about Jesus in his canticle: “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, he has come to his people and set them free. He has raised up for us a mighty Savior, born of the house of his servant David.” (Lk 1:68-69) He realized that his son, John the Baptist, would “go before the Lord to prepare his way, “(Lk 1:76) and during Advent, we remember that St. John the Baptist preached repentance to prepare people for Jesus’ coming.
During Advent we also consider the ways Jesus comes to us in the present time. When Jesus ascended into Heaven, He promised to remain with us always, “until the end of the age.” (Matt 28:20) Jesus is with us now in the Church, in the Eucharist, in Sacred Scripture, and He is with us when we pray. Jesus is always near us. As Pope Benedict XVI said in an Advent homily: “Advent, this powerful liturgical season we are beginning, invites us to pause in silence to understand a presence. It is an invitation to understand that the individual events of the day are hints that God is giving us, signs of the attention He has for each one of us. How often does God give us a glimpse of His love!”
In the Advent season, we also prepare for Jesus’ Second Coming in the future. We don’t know when Jesus will return and so we must be ready. Jesus taught his disciples: “Therefore, stay awake! For you do not know which day your Lord will come.” (Mt 24:42) Last Sunday, a priest in my parish gave a homily about preparing for Jesus’ coming. He said we must be in a state of grace, follow the Commandments, pray, be of service to others, and practice self-denial. Advent is, like Lent, a time of renewal for Catholics, an opportunity to start over, and to experience conversion.
The Advent season is a joyful time. We look forward to remembering Jesus’ birth at Christmas, we are thankful for Jesus being present with us now, and we wait, with hope, for His Second Coming.
Some Suggestions to Spiritually Prepare for Christmas
- Go to confession and receive Jesus’ forgiveness of your sins.
- Attend Mass daily or a few times each week (in addition to Sunday Mass).
- Spend time with Jesus in a church, where He is present in the Eucharist in the tabernacle.
- Pray the Liturgy of the Hours.
- Read and reflect on passages from the Bible, particularly the Infancy Narratives at the beginning of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Luke. You could also read the daily Mass readings.
- Make an act of sacrifice, such as giving up dessert or social media.
- Do one or more of the spiritual and corporal works of mercy, such as visiting someone who is sick.