Advent is a largely ignored season of the Church’s liturgical calendar. The main reason is that many of us live in cultures where the Christmas season begins on Thanksgiving, or even on Halloween. The stores and streets are decorated for Christmas earlier and earlier each year. Unfortunately, this means that a great many Catholics miss out on the motions of the liturgical year, including the beginning of a new year within the Church. It is no surprise that the Church begins the year in waiting. Advent is a season filled with meditations on the Christian life.
Advent is multi-faceted. We are waiting for the great Parousia, the Second Coming of Christ. The readings that begin the Advent season conjure up the images of Christ coming on the clouds as the Son of Man as seen in Daniel’s vision. This past Sunday we heard St. John the Baptist preparing the way for Christ. We are in a time of preparation; a time we need in our busy lives. Christmas is not something we check off our list each year. It is a holy season that goes well past the Christmas Eve Vigil which marks the beginning of the Christmas season. It is still Christmas Day on December 26, 27, 28 and on until the Octave ends. Then comes Epiphany and the Church still lives in the liturgical color of white until the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord, at least in the Latin Rite.
Advent is the time we acknowledge that we are constantly waiting upon the Lord. We are waiting for him to return in His glory and wipe away every tear. We are waiting for the day we stand before the Beatific Vision upon our own death. We wait in the darkness of December for the tiny baby who is the Incarnate Word of God. Waiting is a part of the Christian journey, in fact, it is a critical part of the Christian life. We are not called to skip over Advent and jump right into Christmas. Instead the Church reminds us of the deep longing of our hearts, which is to dwell with Christ. We are reminded of the long wait of the Israelites as they awaited the Messiah. We too wait for Him to come as we watch the bloodshed, suffering, and pain of this mortal coil.
How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me? Look on me and answer, O LORD my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death; my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,” and my foes will rejoice when I fall. But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing to the LORD, for he has been good to me.
The best guide in this period of waiting is Our Heavenly Mother. She quietly carried and waited upon Our Lord for the 40 weeks as she held him in her womb. From the moment of her fiat at St. Gabriel’s announcement, she waited patiently to see the face of her Savior and ours. It is through her that we can contemplate the joy and sorrow of our waiting and learn what is required of us on this journey to holiness.
The great sin of Lucifer and the other fallen angels was pride. The Fall of Mankind was also mitigated by pride and a desire to be God. Humility is not self-deprecation, rather it is a proper ordering of ourselves before the Most Holy Trinity. We ask, who am I before God? Mary is the example par excellence of humility.
The angel begins with these words of humble greeting: “Hail, Mary, full of grace.” Hail, that is, most agreeable to God and full of his gifts, “the Lord is with you, and you are blessed above all women” (cf. Luke 1:28). This discourse is in a much loftier tone than the one that was addressed to Zechariah. To him the angel said, “Do not be afraid,” as to a man who has something to fear; and “your prayers have been heard.” Yet what is announced to Mary is something so sublime and excellent that she could not have asked for it in her prayers. Mary, humble, hidden, small in his eyes, could not have begun to think that an angel would greet her, especially not with such noble words. It is humility that made her heart troubled.
Jacques-Benigne Bossuet, Mediations for Advent, page 41-42
When the Annunciation occurs, Mary is stunned that God has chosen her. She knows the greatness of God and her place in relation to Him, but she does not allow that knowledge to stop her from serving Him. She understands that humility also requires an acceptance of what God wants in our own lives. Humility is the beginning of the virtues of obedience and charity. In knowing our place, we are better suited to accept the mission God gives us in our own lives.
Humility should be at the forefront of our minds during this Advent season. How strange, glorious, and unexpected it is that the God of the Universe would lower Himself and become a babe in a human mother’s arms. This is not some story we accept as quaint, but true. The Incarnation is deeply disconcerting and a complete reversal of the power structures human beings have put in place since the Fall. We should fall on our faces in humility before the babe who is the Son of God and marvel at the wonderful things He has done for us. Advent is the time we prepare for this incredible mystery and we do so resting in the care of the Mother who bore Him.
The Incarnation is the beginning act of our faith. In order to be Catholic, we must first accept that Jesus is the God-Man, both God and man. That is the very beginning of the journey. If we do not accept this truth, then we have not accepted who Jesus said He is and that He has power to overcome sin and death. Advent moves us deeper into this gift and acceptance of faith we have been given. Advent prepares our hearts to say that Jesus is Lord at Christmas Mass.
“…the last disposition was faith. For she must conceive the Son of God in her spirit before conceiving Him in her body, and this was the work of faith alone: “Let it be to me according to thy word.”
Bossuet, page 52
So too it is with us. We must accept Jesus on faith and accept the truth He has revealed to us. As we wait for Christ to come at Christmas and His Second Coming, we must constantly re-affirm our faith in Him. Mary is our example of how to bring Our Lord into our hearts and to make Him the very center of our lives. We can contemplate Mary’s great faith by praying with her as she carries the Christ child, as she awaits His birth. She waits with us and wants to share her great faith with each one of us.
Our Lady utters very little in Scripture. Her words are always in obedience, love, and humility to her Son. She quietly holds things in her heart and walks with her Son from conception until the Assumption. She intercedes on our behalf as Queen of Heaven and continues her mission of leading souls to her Son. Mary teaches us patience in her silence. She allows the great mysteries around her to guide her and she follows the pace God sets for her. It can be difficult to be patient in this Advent season. There are so many activities, shopping trips, and things that need to be done. Advent is about each one of us stepping into silence and learning to wait patiently for Christmas. It is not Christmas, yet. Now is the time we prepare our hearts for the joy that will come on Christmas Eve and continue on throughout the Christmas season. This is an important aspect of Advent that is often missed and forgotten. We must be patient and prepare. If we keep ourselves busy and ignore the silence and slowing of Advent, then we will rush right through Christmas and miss the mystery. We will not be prepared for the strangest, most awe-inspiring mystery: The Incarnation.
There are still a couple of weeks left of the Advent season. Now is the time to slow down and enter into the silence, peace, and waiting. Use these December nights of long darkness to dwell in the candlelight that shows us how to hope. Meditate on the great mysteries of our faith and walk with Our Lady as she journeys towards Bethlehem with Saint Joseph. She wants us to walk with her so she can show us her Son, Jesus Christ, when Christmas finally dawns. If you are looking for a guide on this Advent journey, then pick up a copy of Meditations for Advent at Sophia Institute Press. It is a beautiful guide you can use year after year as you walk the Advent journey. Advent is a time for casting out into the deep so that we may grow even deeper in our love, awe, and wonder at the Incarnation.