Advent will begin on Sunday, Dec. 3, in the Church’s official liturgical calendar, but it is not an important development in the lives of many Catholics, for whom this ancient season, first observed 1,600 years ago, simply is out of step with the happy times of Christmas.
Yet Advent can be very important to anyone who realizes that winter is coming soon, maybe in more ways than one. No one can assume that her or his future will be free of worries. Even without trials, for everyone, young or old, male or female, living can be routine, stale and unrewarding.
Jesus’ impact on history
So, where is Advent in all of this? Simply, it is the time, about four weeks, to think about what the coming of the Son of God into earthly life, as Jesus, born of Mary, meant and still means.
Some years ago, a Protestant minister in New York City and a native of Canada, James Allen Francis, wrote about what the coming of Jesus, in human flesh, space and time, meant.
“Twenty centuries have come and gone, and today he is the central figure of the human race. I am well within the mark when I say that all the armies that ever marched, all the navies that ever sailed, all the parliaments that ever sat, all the kings that ever reigned — put together — have not affected the life of man on this earth as much as that one, solitary life.”
Think about it. No ruler, no philosophy, no event, planned or not, affected human history and human behavior as much as did the birth of Jesus, in Bethlehem, 2,000 years ago.
He brought mercy as well as justice to our thinking. He brought a realization of human dignity, whatever an individual person’s circumstances, to our way of thinking. He inspired the greatest works of art, music, architecture and writing.
He gave courage to untold millions who fought for the right, and to those who endured outrage, persecution and just plain monotony.
On countless, intimate personal levels, he has brought purpose to endeavors. He defined what is noble. He has given the priceless gift of hope to those who have no reason for hope. He has given humans the reason to love.
He made the birth of every person a special cause for celebration. He brightened the moment of death. He put all things in focus and enriched life by giving it a purpose.
The simplicity of Advent
The details of the Lord’s birth and life vividly reveal that the glitter of this world, in the last analysis, means nothing. Living in a culture that is hypnotized by self-interest, that counts “success” by accumulating cash, this revelation is unmatched in its value.
He was born in the most inauspicious circumstances, of a peasant mother, attended by a peasant foster father, at the bottom of the ladder in the mighty Roman empire, reared in what might be called a wide place in the road, falsely convicted of crime and executed as a criminal. A friend even had to offer a place for his burial. He could not afford a tomb.
Yet, in “one solitary life,” Jesus changed the world, renewed the face of the earth.
Advent does not have the mystique of Lent. Nobody “gives up” anything for Advent. Somber Advent Masses seem to be out of touch. Some, but hardly everybody, display Advent wreaths and Advent calendars, but the best way to observe Advent is to take it seriously, as urged by the Church, hopefully to bring Christ into our own lives, hearts and minds.
Advent is not intended to diminish the joy of a coming Christmas with a little misery. Doing penance is a way to set distractions aside, to concentrate upon “that one solitary life,” God’s loving gift to us. It beautified the world, is unparalleled in the good it achieved, and makes everyone’s life worth living.