This coming Sunday is the First Sunday of Advent. For me, each year, this reminds – even startles – me that it is only four weeks to Christmas. Horror – I haven’t even thought of Christmas cards, presents, or other necessary family Christmas arrangements!! In Australia, the period leading up to Christmas is usually a very hectic one. About twenty years ago, I was in a Jesuit university in Omaha Nebraska for most of Advent. It was quite different. It was a much more peaceful time – Christmas is not a great family event in the USA, as they have just had that major focus at Thanksgiving in late November. Woe betide any family member who does not make it home to family for Thanksgiving! It is also not the end of the academic year – merely a couple of weeks’ vacation, as we have in July. It is not the time when people change jobs, with all the farewells and so on that accompany that. It was very much a spiritual time in the university; advent was a reality, and thinking of the spiritual meaning of Christmas was strong, with advent services, carol services and so on.
Many years ago, when I was teaching Religious Education in a school, we used a video called JCBC – Jesus Christ in the BC time – the Old Testament times. You will realise how far back it was in that the video, in black and white, came on one inch wide tape on a reel about six inches across – 2cm and 12cm for you younger ones! It was set in heaven; modelled as a comfortable lounge room, with a roaring fire in the fireplace, a large TV showing the world, and God the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. They are looking down on the world, and not happy with what they see. It is not how they had intended it to be when they created it. Reports come back. Archangel Michael comes in with a bandaged hand, bitten by the serpent in the garden of Eden; Gabriel comes in all singed (Sodom and Gomorrah); and Raphael enters wringing wet (the Flood). They report on the lack of love and care humans are showing to each other. The Father says we must show them a better way. Someone will have to go down and give them a message of how things can be better by love and putting the other first. Jesus and the Holy Spirit look at one another, and Jesus draws the short straw!
The Incarnation, Christmas, is about a message of a world that can be better, if we live the message that Jesus came to bring. A time to reflect on how we are doing with that message – in our families, our communities, our world. Advent is a time of preparation spiritually for Christmas; in our culture, it is very easily lost in the other activities around December.
The Advent wreath is an attempt to focus on the preparation for Christmas. We light a candle each Sunday or each week in preparation – the Prophets’ Candle, symbolising hope; the Bethlehem Candle, symbolising faith; the Shepherds’ Candle, symbolising joy; the Angel’s Candle, symbolising peace; those who prepared the way for the birth of Jesus at Christmas and rejoiced at his coming. The final candle lit at Christmas – the Jesus candle – symbolises Jesus being present with us. Let us have a plan in our family for preparing the way for Christmas – to not let the spiritual meaning become lost in the frenetic activity that, in our culture and country, surrounds this time of the year. Perhaps to read a section of scripture about the incarnation and nativity each week at a meal.
Let me wish everyone a very Happy and Holy Christmas; an enjoyable, safe, and family bonding vacation time, and every blessing for the coming year; and above all, a Christmas in which Jesus is present with us.