We are in the season of Advent. The season of preparation. The season of waiting.
We live in an instant-gratification culture that hates waiting. We are barraged with Christmas sales, music, and merchandise in October. So when we hear talk about “Advent” we tend to think only of the countdown calendars… and even then, it’s hard to understand and embrace the waiting.
Advent is a Season of Preparation
What is it that we are “preparing” for? We prepare for the coming of Christ.
For young children, we certainly focus on the Miracle of the Incarnation: in Advent we prepare for the birth of Christ. But as we grow older, we hear the readings throughout Advent… readings that are not simply about the coming of the Christ-Child, but of the Second Coming and John the Baptist’s message of repentance.
St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) summed up the meaning of Advent when he suggested that in it, we celebrate three comings of the Lord: the past, the present, and the future,
- The Past: The first coming was the coming of Christ in history: the Miracle of the Incarnation.
- The Present: The coming of Christ within the hearts of disciples.
- The Future:This final coming (often referred to as “The Second Coming”) will take place at the end of the world (the Apocalypse).
The Past – The Incarnation: Amid the secular holiday retail extravaganza, we do manage to see the images of the nativity, however meager. Look for them. Revisit the story of the Nativity. Marvel at the Mystery of the Incarnation: God became human.
The Future – The Second Coming: Though admittedly, we don’t see many images of the Second Coming in seasonal decorations. Not very heart warming, I suppose. Even as Jesus himself admits we do not know the hour (Matthew 24:36), we are called to prepare our lives for this reality by having our priorities in order.
The Present – In Our Hearts: St. Bernard referred to this dimension of Advent as the “invisible” reality. Here, we can look to the multitude of Christmas movies and focus on the messages of conversion, from The Grinch to Rudolph to even my least favorite, Frosty.
Yet still, we manage to misunderstand the meaning of this season of preparation in our daily lives. Bear with me as I ask you to take a moment to engage your religious imagination:
Even as I write this question and I know the “right” answer, I feel myself tempted to do an emergency house cleaning while I let my husband deal with the menu. And then there’s getting the kids cleaned up, into nice clothes and practicing their table manners.
The thing is that Jesus couldn’t care less about the condition of my house. What he cares about is the condition of my heart.
When John the Baptist tells us to Prepare the Way… to Repent and believe… he’s telling us to get our priorities in order. To quit obsessing about the things that don’t matter (consumerism, materialism, and perfectionism, just to name a few) and give our hearts to the things that do matter (love, presence, and a faith that does justice).
So perhaps in the midst of all that time we spend waiting, we could ask ourselves a better question:
- What do I need to do to prepare my heart–my life–to welcome Jesus?