The busyness of this time of year sees Advent passing by very quickly. We often do not have time to stop and really reflect. Caught up in Christmas parties, or end of year parties as I prefer to call them, shopping for gifts, getting homes ready for the onslaught of family as they become transformed into grand spaces of celebration means that we find ourselves in a month-long celebration of Christmas before Christmas has even happened. Our anticipation rests on imagining what we will get Christmas morning. This then is where the liturgical season of Christmastide goes unnoticed and gets swallowed up in sporting events, Boxing Day specials and New Year’s Eve. It has already happened.
As Joseph and Mary journey towards Bethlehem, we should journey with them. It would not have been an easy journey. The sense of anticipation of what was to come would have been overwhelming, as it is for the arrival of any new child. And that is where we truly find ourselves. If COVID-19 has taught us anything this year, it is to be patient.
The word advent comes from the Latin ‘coming’ or ‘to arrive’. If we look a little closer at the journey the Church makes this becomes clearer. Advent in its infancy, pardon the pun, was intended to be a time of fasting and preparation, not too unlike Lent. The Sunday gospels lead us to remembrance and anticipation. They are drawing us towards The Parousia, the second coming. This is a focus during Advent as we read in Mark 13 for the first Sunday of Advent where we are reminded to stay awake as we never know when the Lord will come. The other Sunday’s gospels are in preparation. This is where we are again reminded, to prepare a path and to make a straight way for the coming of Jesus.
So where should our energy be in preparing this straight path? Pope Benedict XVI summarised it beautifully when he said “‘The Christ child comes’ in a real sense whenever human beings act out of authentic love for the Lord and do not settle for mere exchanging of gifts”. Furthermore, the Catechism (n524) also guides us when it states that when we celebrate “the liturgy of Advent each year, (the Church) makes present this ancient expectancy of the Messiah, for by sharing in the long preparation for the Saviour’s first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desire for his second coming. By celebrating the precursor’s birth and martyrdom”. “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).
And this is where imagination comes in. Imagine an Advent season where ‘authentic love’ to all is evident. Where the least of God’s people can come to the feast. Where, as our Advent wreath reminds us, hope, peace, joy and faith are truly what is important. How can we be more Christ-like at this time – the hands, feet, eyes to which he looks at the world (St Theresa of Avila)? As Mary and Joseph travel to Bethlehem they carry the burden of humanity. Are we not called to do that too?