Advent is a Robust & Demanding Spiritual Season — Faith Today

The following article was published in Faith Today’s Nov – Dec 2017 issue.

Lalo Garcia, Creadora de Luz, 2009

He came with love to Bethlehem; He comes with grace into our souls; He will come with justice at the end of the world.

—Father Gabriel of Saint Mary Magdalene

Advent simply means to come, (Latin: advenire, from ad-‘to’ venire-‘come’) and it is the forty-day liturgical season Christians have traditionally set aside to anticipate the coming of Christ at Christmas, experienced as a season of attentive waiting. Of course, as with all waiting comes the inevitable agony of anticipation; so much so, that we are inclined to want to do something to make the waiting itself bearable and meaningful.

In this regard, Advent is an active season of mindful preparation as well.

When a young couple discovers they are expecting a child, it is not enough for them to simply wait out the nine months and hope for the best. There will be necessary preparation. Perhaps they will clear out a spare room to create a nursery. Tough decisions will be made about what stays and what has to go. They will collect and purchase appropriate furnishings. They will seek advice. They will endlessly brood over a name; about the kind of birth-experience they hope for; about the joy, fears, and future of this new reality. And the preparation will not be meaningless because it’s about getting ready to fully receive the gift of the child who is coming.

So when we consider the Christian season of Advent, what is the content of our waiting? How are we to prepare? What makes this time more than just a season to endure before the fun starts? How do we ready our lives to receive the gift of Christ fully, and do so with meaning—with the deepest joy and reverential awe that we suspect ought to accompany such an astonishing event?

When I first started to attend to the Advent season, I was a little surprised at the kinds of themes present in the ancient writings. Traditionally, Advent was not the giddy season of festive parties and glittering décor that we have come to know. The more rooted Advent tradition was a preparation for the return of Christ, not merely a preparation for Christmas celebrations. Indeed, there was an element of festive joy, but it was also a sober season (almost Lent-ish) that began with sustained attention to our deepest longings, and the assumptions—valid or vain— which those longings might indicate. It was a time of penitent reflection about the many inordinate attachments and affections we have given ourselves to—those ill-discerned commitments that prevent us from fully attaching to Christ.

Advent was a season to reflect on the rich, spiritual metaphor of motherhood, or spousal maternity, which reveals the deepest truth about the mystery of the human person: that we were created to receive and house heaven in our womb and bear it forth for the sake of the world. The Christ child doesn’t merely come to us but through us.

Advent was also a time to reflect on the ancient names of Christ—Emmanuel! Wisdom! Dayspring! Majestic Lord! Root! Key! Desire of the Nations—as memorialized in the tradition of the O Antiphons of the beloved hymn O Come, O Come Emmanuel.

And it was a time to reflect on the upside-down nature of this astonishing Kingdom of God that is breaking in on our desperate history, as suggested by the ancient oracles of Isaiah.

Upon reflection, one realizes that Advent is a robust and demanding spiritual season. Easy, triumphant declarations like “Jesus is the Reason for the Season!” or campaigns to “Keep Christ In Christmas” will not do. We are invited to much more than that. We are encouraged to attend deeply to the pulse of this season, to enter into it quietly, penitently, patiently and expectantly, allowing it to penetrate and resound in the fecund depths of our souls:

May it be done as you have said!
Plant your seed in me O God.
Not the seed of human life,
but your everlasting Word.
For we are all just like the grass,
and our glory’s like the flower.
But the grasses wither, and flowers fade.
Yet your Word, O Lord… it stands forever!

— from May It Be Done by Steve Bell, Feast of Seasons

Ready yourself! For Christ has come. He comes now. He will come again. Alleluia!

Click above to listen to “Ready My Heart” by Steve Bell, originally recorded in The Feast of Seasons (1995)

Ready My Heart
music and lyrics by Lois Farley Shuford (recorded by Steve Bell)

Ready my heart for the birth of Emmanuel
Ready my soul for the Prince of Peace
Heap the straw of my life for His body to lie on
Light the candle of hope
Let the child come in

Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
Christ the Saviour is born

Mine is the home that is poor and is barren
Mine is the stable of cold and stone
Break the light to each corner
Of doubt and of darkness
Now the Word is made flesh
For the birth of me