Advent is a season of expectation and of hope. It is a time for us to listen again to God's promise of deliverance and reconciliation. It is a time for us to be reassured of His relentless love for each and all of us, and for our planet. Advent recalls the past acts of God, not for the sake of nostalgia, but to help us look to the future with hope. We don't just extend our present condition into the future; the way things are now doesn't control how they will be. Present circumstances may offer no evidence of future fulfillment; but during Advent we learn to, "hope against hope."
The very first beam of light that announces the coming of the sun is the morning star. At the very beginning of Advent, we welcome the pure light of Mary, who, by her Immaculate Conception, prepares us for the Son who is to come. Already, the saving power of Jesus shines upon the moment of His mother's conception and will not let the darkness of original sin shadow her being. She is "full of grace", filled with the life and holiness of God from the beginning. And she thus becomes a model and promise of the holiness that will be restored to all of us through the life, death and resurrection of her Son.
This is what Advent should mean for us. It is a time for us to be filled with new hope, new courage. It is a time for us to be reassured that the darkness that overshadows the present moment, whether from sin, sickness, poverty, sorrow, weakness or failure, will be dissipated and driven away by the Sun of Justice, the Word-Made-Flesh.
Every Scripture reading during Advent in its own way proclaims the "good news": Jesus, Emmanuel, God-With-Us, Has Come, Is Coming and Will Come!
We know this holy season is important for us. We hear the words of promise and of exhortation. What Isaiah saw in prophetic vision we have learned from history. He described what the person and mission of the Messiah would be like; we know from apostolic witness how perfectly Jesus fulfilled that vision and promise. Through Baptism, we have become members of His kingdom of justice, peace and light.
But His coming is an ongoing mystery. He needs us and uses us to "make straight His paths." We are called to hasten His coming in our own time and place. We must continue to "beat our swords into plowshares" and prepare the way of the Lord."
We use these advent days to stir up this hope in a fearful world, to cultivate that seed of hope to full bloom. We know that the Lord has come... we are certain that the Lord will come. And for us that does not mean waiting in fear and dread for doomsday. We do believe in the second coming of Jesus, and we try to live each day in readiness for that stupendous event.
Especially as this year comes to a close, we reaffirm our belief in all that Jesus has already accomplished in us, and we see in that a promise, a reason to hope for so much more.... for a deepening of our own faith and love... for the power to overcome evil in ourselves and in our world... for the spread of the gospel... for the healing of hatred and the banishment of war... for peace and justice.
The scene of the Christmas Crib is by no means just for children. We are not spending four weeks just to welcome again the "baby Jesus". We are trying to drive away the shadows of sin and despair so that we can open our hearts and minds and lives to the overpowering light of the incarnate Son of God made man. We want to use this sacred time to deepen our understanding of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. We need to realize again how fully He has entered into the very fabric of our lives. We want to allow Him to transform every facet of our human existence, so that in all things we think, speak, choose and act as redeemed children of God.
Our Christmas celebration has to include all of this. But for now, we long for readiness... for a house in order... for a conscience cleansed... for quiet prayerful expectation in the midst of all of the pre-Christmas activity... for gifts that will express the unconditional love of Jesus... for the simple pleasure of being with those we love.
This, then, is the challenge of Advent: to stay alert and be hopeful.
Staying alert helps us keep in touch with our faith in God's love and alert to God's intervention in our daily lives.
Staying alert helps us grow spiritually. We grow in sensitivity to the pain of others when we begin to notice what grieves them. Our staying awake and being attentive to the world around us will always alert us to the already-arrived and still-coming of Christ.