At the end of this month of November we will once again find ourselves at the beginning of Advent, a new liturgical year. We all certainly know that this year has been a difficult one for many individuals. Many have lost loved ones to this terrible scourge that is upon our land, and for all of us we have had to drastically change our lives in order to help keep ourselves and others safe. So even with all this in mind, how then should we approach this new liturgical year which is coming upon us?
I have always considered the Season of Advent quite a special time of the year. While I certainly know that our faith is built around the joy that is celebrated at the Resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ at Easter, and while there is an extreme joy to be celebrated at the Nativity as our Lord enters into our world as the infant child of Bethlehem, there is still something special about Advent.
Advent is the season of preparing to meet the Lord. If we take a moment to consider it, it is something which is a part of our daily lives right now. During the Sunday readings that we will encounter during the four weeks of Advent we will see various ways in which this is true. During the first Sunday as we read from Mark 13:33-37, we hear Jesus reminding His disciples, and us, to stay awake because we are not sure when the Lord is coming. He tells us to “Be on guard!” (Mark 13:37) And this action must permeate our entire lives. We are not “on guard” for the Lord only for our hour of worship on Sunday, or only for our moments of prayer, but our entire lives must be a preparation to encounter the Lord at each and every moment. The Advent season asks us to consider how this is true and how we can be better on guard to meet Jesus in every situation.
On the second Sunday of Advent we encounter the ministry of John the Baptist and his fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah which says: “I send my messenger before you to prepare your way: a herald’s voice in the desert, crying, ‘Make ready the way of the Lord, clear him a straight path.’” (Mark 1:2-3) We see here that our waiting for the Lord must be an active one. During the upcoming month of December, I am sure that all of us will be preparing for the Christmas holiday. There will be cleaning and cooking to be done, decorating and shopping that also must be accomplished. All of this preparation must be done so that we can appropriately celebrate the Christmas holiday. But in the same manner, we know that the spiritual aspects of this important day far outweigh the secular ones, so we ask, is this same amount of preparation going on in our spiritual lives. Are we “making ourselves ready” for the Lord? Are we “clearing Him a straight path” into our lives?
How often in our lives do we expect great things from God without our even doing the little steps of getting ourselves ready? Well, Advent is the season of getting ready. Are we spending that time and that effort to examine our own lives and seeing where there may be things that distract us from our true and fruitful relationship with the Lord? To “clear a path” for Jesus into our lives is something that takes work. During this past few weeks, I, as I am sure many of you did, spent time cleaning up the yard. The leaves had fallen and the bushes and plants needed to be taken care of. This work is time consuming and sometimes difficult. And it doesn’t show immediate results. We do this work now so that, in the future, our plants will blossom and grow beautifully. The same is true in our spiritual life as well; we must do the work of examining our lives and putting them in order, so that the fruits of the Spirit will be brought forth in time.
On the third Sunday of Advent the ministry of John the Baptist continues. Here he is confronted by the Pharisees who want to know who he is and what he’s doing. This reminds us that in our pursuit of setting our lives in order there will certainly be those things and persons which will stand against us. First and foremost, the worst is our own inertia. We really don’t like to change, even when we know that we should. It is always just easier to make up an excuse, or say that we will put it off until another time, probably knowing full well that we will never get around to it.
But Advent is a time for action. St. Paul says it in his First Letter to the Thessalonians that we read this Sunday, “Test everything, retain what is good. Avoid any semblance of evil. … May you be preserved whole and entire, spirit, soul, body, irreproachable at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thessalonians 5:21-23) This action must be done by us in preparation for the “coming of the Lord Jesus” Advent is certainly the time for this. It also must involve “spirit, soul and body,” in other words, every aspect of our lives. We must examine where we are concerning everything about us. We are to “test” all of it and “retain only what is good.” This reminds us that there is real work to be done in these four weeks of Advent in preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Christ.
On the Fourth Sunday of Advent, in the final preparations for the coming of Christ, we read the annunciation passage of the Archangel Gabriel to the Blessed Virgin Mary from the Gospel of St. Luke. In contemplating this Gospel passage we focus on Mary’s “yes” to God in her conceiving our Lord Jesus Christ in her womb. Within the passage Mary says to the Archangel, “I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38) In seeking to prepare ourselves in this season of Advent we should seek to have both of these confessions become everyday parts of our lives. We should strive to confess and live out, “I am a servant of the Lord” and “Let God’s Word be done in me.”
So often selfishness and self-serving ways rule how we act and think in our daily lives. Advent calls us to put the Lord first in our thinking and in our actions, especially in regard to our dealings with other people. We must ask ourselves, whom do we serve? And oftentimes that answer is only ourselves. In the seeking to be a servant, we must always put the Lord first, others second and ourselves last. This is the servant mentality and it then allows us to move on to the second confession, to let God’s Word and God’s way be accomplished in us.
This must be the goal of our Advent preparation. We certainly look forward to celebrating a joyous Nativity of Jesus Christ at the beginning of the Christmas season. We know that at Christmas we will celebrate once again Jesus Christ being born into the world. But the reality of the situation is that if we do the work of the Advent season, making a path for Him into our lives, seeking to be His servant and allowing His word to be accomplished in us, then Jesus will continually be born into the world in every one of our words, thoughts and actions, as we unite ourselves to Him and await His final coming.
So my brothers and sisters, don’t just let this Advent season be one where all of our preparations are for the secular. Let’s do the spiritual work of preparing ourselves for the coming of the Lord.