Today, the first Sunday of Advent, marks the beginning of a new liturgical year–Year C, during which the Gospel of St. Luke will be mostly read. Luke’s gospel is the gospel of prayer, the gospel of joy, the gospel of the poor, the gospel of the Holy Spirit, the gospel of mercy, the gospel of women… a beautiful gospel indeed. It is New Year’s Day today in the Church.
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It feels a little bit awkward to announce today the beginning of Advent, in preparation for Christmas, since the flavor of Christmas has been with us for several months now. Since the start of the “-ber” months, Christmas carols have been on the air; Christmas trees and décor are all over the place. For all practical purposes, the Advent season does not exist. It is our task to re-discover the meaning and the importance of Advent as the time to prepare for a fruitful and meaningful celebration of Christmas. We must not allow ourselves to be dazzled by the glitter of the Christmas lights or by the perks and trappings thrust upon us by the department stores.
Lest we forget, it is not Santa Claus, loaded with goodies that we are waiting for. It is the poor, little Baby laid on a manger that we are waiting for. He, not Santa, is the reason for the season.
The liturgy of Advent is divided into two parts: The first, from today up to December 16, focuses on the second coming of Christ at the end of time. The second, from December 17 to 24, draws our attention to his coming as man in Bethlehem. This structure is clearly expressed in the two Prefaces of the Advent season.
In today’s gospel we heard the announcement of Christ’s coming amid cosmic upheavals: Signs in the sun, the moon and the stars, the roaring of the sea, etc. To those unfamiliar with apocalyptic writings (and that includes most of us) this gospel may sound scary. In fact, through the centuries, this gospel has been used as the basis to predict the end of the world. But then, deadlines (such as 12-12-12) came and went… and here we are still, alive and kicking.
As a matter of fact, the message of today’s gospel is not one of fear and trembling, but rather one of joy and hope—as are all apocalyptic writings: “When these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your head because your redemption is at hand.” We are not told to run and hide, but to stand erect… Your redemption is at hand! Being redeemed means being ransomed, being set free. Advent’s favorite song is: “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel.”
It is not only Israel that is captive. We are all captive in one way or another. O yes, we are free to move around. But if we carry within us anger, or hatred, or envy, or pride… we are captives. Then, we are all captive of fear—fear of bombings, of terrorists attacks a la-Paris, of drug addicts, of hold-uppers, of kidnappers… Captive of political and economic uncertainty; captive of the hopelessness and helplessness which envelop much of our society.
Rightly then, today’s gospel invites us to be vigilant and to pray constantly. Let us not spend these days of Advent in endless shopping and partying. Saving a little cash in order to feed some empty stomachs is much more meaningful and Christmassy. Also, let us spend some extra time in prayer with the Lord—who is the reason for the season. We will discover the true meaning of Christmas, not in the noise of the shopping malls or restaurants but in the silence of the adoration chapel; in the silence of prayer.