Father Don Farnan

Nov 30

“Advent” comes from the Latin word adventus which means The Coming.  Liturgical, societal, and religious themes of the Advent season warn us to stay awake, be alert, get ready, and prepare a way.  The societal impact is probably most influential upon us: only twenty-three shopping days till Christmas!  We’ve got to stay awake for Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales, be alert to bargains, get ready for the big holiday, and prepare with decorations, greeting cards, parties, caroling, gifts, and that perfect gift for that special someone.  But, as we know, many of the societal pressures are misdirected.

For students, Advent marks the coming of the end of an academic semester and final exams.  We’ve got to stay awake with late-nighters and all-nighters, be alert to our professors’ preferences, get ready and prepare for final exams, projects, presentations, and papers—for the day of judgment is coming.

For Jews and Christians, Advent marks the coming of the Messiah.  Through a prophecy of Zechariah, who lived some five hundred years before Jesus, people were told of the Messiah’s future coming, specifically on the Mount of Olives.  Today, thousands of Jewish graves cover that hill because believers, though deceased, are prepared and in place; they want to awaken and greet him when, at last, he comes.  Christians, however, believe that He already came—or better put, that He comes in the past, in history, in the present, in mystery, and in the future, in majesty.  During Advent we reflect upon and celebrate that three-fold coming and it is for this that we prepare in an alert and awakened state.

We, on some level, ready ourselves for the second coming, which marks the end of time.  Some believe that it will be Armageddon or the end of the world as we know it; others believe that the Messiah’s coming will be very personal and occur when we each breathe our last, when our body gives in and our soul returns to God.  Whatever it will be, we are warned to get ready and prepare ourselves.  The Christian scriptures teach us that our preparation takes place daily by our treatment of one another and our love for others: both those entrusted to our care and the least among us.  So, the annual Advent experience is a reminder to us of our ultimate and haunting Advent task: to prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ by opening our hearts to the gifts we have been given, starting with life itself, and the gifts that we share.

I think that Charles Dickens captured it as well as anyone in A Christmas Carol when Ebenezer Scrooge was haunted by spiritual encounters with the past, present, and future.  He was forced to stay awake and be alert to a message of compassion, to be prepared for his own immanent death, and to get ready by preparing a way that helps others.  Like the Grinch whose heart grew three sizes in one day, Scrooge received the message that is given to each of us—though it is given to us with much less drama.

There are lots of wonderful things that we can do between now and Christmas Day to prepare a way for the Lord.  Though the decorations and parties provide a nice backdrop, it really starts with awakening something inside us, perhaps the innocence and simplicity of our own childhood or childlike grace that unites us with the babe in the manger.  It beckons us to be alert to opportunities we are given to make our world a little better by helping those in need and encouraging those we love.  We prepare a way by forgiving and asking for forgiveness and mercy, and by readying our minds and opening our hearts to what lies right before us.  Society’s spangled ornaments and all the external majestic lights can help, but our task in this holy season is mostly internal as we contemplate The Coming.