The secularization of Christmas by contemporary society, and its overemphasis on the material aspects of what began as a religious celebration challenges Catholics and other Christians to utilize the season of Advent for its true purpose: preparation for Christmas.
The secularized version of Christmas begins on the Friday after Thanksgiving and ends on the evening of Dec. 25. This presents a very difficult obstacle for Catholics who want to use Advent as a preparatory season for Christmas. Most Christmas office parties occur well before Christmas Day, and the rush for gifts and the seasonal music heard on the airwaves lend to Advent being anything but preparatory.
The message of the Gospel for the First Sunday of Advent can be summarized in three phrases found within the narrative itself: “Be watchful! Be alert! Watch!” While Advent helps us to prepare for the commemoration of the Lord’s first coming, it also foreshadows the moment when He will come at the end of time.
To help us better understand the urgency with which we should anticipate the Lord’s return in glory, Jesus compares us to servants awaiting their master’s return but not knowing exactly when it will occur. This uncertainty should not leave us dreading the future. Rather, it should impel us to live in such a way that whenever Jesus returns, we will be found ready and waiting. Our whole lives should be an ongoing preparation to meet the King of Kings whenever He should decide to return.
How can we utilize Advent to become better prepared? First, undertaking voluntary penances during the season of Advent, consonant with the purple of the priest’s vestments and the sanctuary decoration, is among the most effective ways of being watchful and alert during Advent.
Second, dedicating a portion of what one might spend on gifts toward charitable causes is another way of mortifying the secular tendency to overindulge during this season. Finally, we should dedicate ourselves to intensified prayer. Meditating upon the Joyful Mysteries of the rosary; reading the infancy narratives in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke; and praying around an Advent wreath in the home are all time-honored ways of preparing the heart to receive Our Savior.
One may notice that the suggestions above include prayer, fasting and almsgiving similar to Lent. These should not come as a surprise – Advent is, after all, a season of penance. Wouldn’t it be great not to have to lose weight after the holidays because Advent was celebrated as a penitential season?
May the exhortations in the Gospel passage spur us to greater awareness and preparedness for our meeting with Jesus – at the crèche and at our particular judgment. Like the servants depicted in the Gospel passage, may we understand our place in the universe: living on the edge of the shadow of eternity and fully engaged in the work of the kingdom that must be accomplished here while there is still time.