The Christmas frenzy has begun. No matter how much I try each year, there is no escaping it. More often than not, I feel violated by all the in-your-face glitz and glamor. It is crazy, but my first Christmas party is on the 12th of Dec. It goes ridiculously downhill after that. I have given up trying to make Advent a quite time. The social and commercial dimensions of the season are so blatant, that there simply is no escaping it. All I can do is to make sure that I do not lose out on the real meaning of the Advent season. Hence, this blog on "Five Ways to Make Advent Meaningful."
Based on the scripture readings for the First Sunday of Advent (Year B, especially Isaiah chapter 63 and 64), I would like to offer five ways to make our Advent a meaningful time. We must remember that Isaiah is expressing the sentiments of a people who were in Babylonian exile for seventy years. Advent is meant to connect us with the yearning of a people who desperately seek God’s saving and redeeming presence.
1) Let us Assess Our Present State
The Prophet Isaiah begins with a question. “Why do you let us wander, O Lord from your ways and harden our hearts so that we fear you not?” (Is 63:17). In their exile, God’s people reflect on some existential questions. Who are we? What are we about? Why do we find ourselves in the situation we are in? Where is God in all of this? I think during Advent these are the same questions that we ourselves must pose. May all the glitz and glamor not take us away from the existential questions. Who am !? What direction is my life going in? Where is God in my life and what does that mean? Who are we as God’s people?
2) Let us Cultivate a Deep Desire for God
Isaiah further cries out on behalf of the exiles: “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down…” (Is 63:19). There was in the people a deep pining for God. They longed to freely worship the God who had set them free. Advent is a time to develop a deep, deep desire for God. Through scripture, through reflection, through prayer, we are invited to cultivate a pining for God. Please, let us not Advent pass without a deepening of of desire and our relationship with God.
3) Let us Acknowledge Our Sins
The most purposeful realization Israel had during the exile was an awareness of her sins. Isaiah says, “We are sinful; all of us have become like unclean people, all our good deeds are like polluted rags” (Is 64:5). The people of Israel realized that that the misfortune that had befallen them was because they had violated the Covenant. They acknowledged their sins. With acknowledgement of sin came confession, forgiveness, and ultimately, redemption. The Lord raised the Persian king Cyrus to set the people free. Advent invites us to an examination of conscience. Honestly, where in our lives do we need the Lord’s redemption?
4) Let us Seek Reconciliation
As I said earlier, Israel’s acknowledgement of sin was followed by confession, forgiveness, reconciliation, and ultimately, redemption. From the Catholic perspective, reconciliation has two dimensions: first, the sacramental forgiveness of our sins by God. However, included in the sacramental reconciliation is a second dimension - the call to reconcile with our neighbor. Who are the people we are estranged from? Who are the people we need to be reconciled with? At Christmas, Christ reconciled us to the Father and to one another. Now this ministry has been entrusted to us. Advent is a time of reconciliation.
5) Let Us Allow Christ to Form Us into His Image
In the gospel reading, we are warned against complacency. Jesus says, “Watch, therefore; you do not know when the Lord of the house is coming…” (Mk 13:35). The best way to be watchful is to always allow Christ, his life and teachings to form our own life. As Isaiah prays, “O Lord you are our father; we are the clay and you are the potter: we are all the work of your hands” (Is 64:7). This advent, let us pay very special attention to the daily scripture readings and allow God to shape our lives. It is when our life reflects Christ that Jesus is truly born in us. Then, it is truly Christmas.