In the ‘meantime,’ let’s keep Advent!

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Advent ,when approached as more than the weeks prior to Christmas and thus merely as preparation for it, can function as an annual reminder to us of just where we are in the great plan of God that we call Salvation History. We might rightly call our time “the meantime” because we live in the time after the first coming of Christ in the land of Palestine in the first third of the first century and His second coming in glory at some unknown moment in an unforeseeable future. 

Each time we proclaim the Third Eucharistic Prayer at Mass we are clearly reminded that we are remembering Christ’s glorious Resurrection and wondrous ascension as we look forward to His return at the end of time. So in the meantime we celebrate in Sacred mystery Christ’s continued presence among us and experience the saving power of His cross and Resurrection by which He has redeemed the world. Indeed Christ keeps His promise to remain with us until the end of time and does so in ways very real but not completely fathomable, especially in the Sacraments and ultimately in the Sacrament of all Sacraments which is the Eucharist. 

So in this meantime we find ourselves living with the “already but not yet” in that we know that Christ is ever with us but we do not yet see Him face to face. We know that by His life, death, Resurrection and ascension Christ has already inaugurated His Kingdom which is a reign of justice, charity, and peace. 

However, we do not yet live in a world completely untainted by injustice, self-centeredness, apathy, and discord. We know that Christ has already conquered death, yet the fullness of life He has won for us is not yet completely ours. This is clearly evident as we still suffer life’s imperfections in aging, illness and infirmity and its limitations as those we love still die and so also must we one day. That is why Advent’s deep purple is symbolic of night reminding us that we are still waiting in the darkness for the dawn of that new and endless day that we are promised at the final and glorious second coming of Christ. 

When we understand this very central aspect of Advent as locating us in the meantime, we may understand its great potential to bring comfort to people who are suffering or in any distress. Those in present difficulty or sorrow can better understand the truth that the world in which we presently live, and life itself, are still in the realm of the imperfect. Our own individual redemption and that of the whole world, while progressing according to the hidden plan of God, is not yet complete. We are all still waiting and at times we learn the hard way that the waiting can be painful. 

During this season of Advent we customarily revisit the writings of Old Testament prophets whose location in Salvation History was very different than our own, yet their experience of waiting is actually similar and thus relevant to our times. In the prophetic writings we can discern that they too were living in the midst of imperfect and challenging circumstances which they believed could only be corrected by Divine intervention. The prophetic approach in the face of situations that would challenge the faith and courage of many is always a deep and abiding certitude that in His Own time and Own way God would execute a plan to make things right. 

The prophetic approach then is instructive to us as it encourages us to live in the meantime with all its imperfection with that same confidence that they tried to inspire in their contemporaries; an unshakable confidence that God has promised Salvation and He will deliver on that promise. Thus the prophetic message is one which encourages waiting patiently in hope no matter what one may be facing at the moment. We know in hindsight that such hope was not in vain because God did indeed act, and ultimately so, as He sent His Only Begotten Son among us as one like us in order to save us; that is what we celebrate at Christmas. 

Thus we can’t fully appreciate the real Christmas without fully understanding and observing Advent. Although we may hear it said even in Church circles that we are waiting for “Baby Jesus,” yet the truth is that we are not, rather at this point in Salvation History we are awaiting the Risen Christ’s return in glory. What then is Christmas but a celebration of the Word made flesh, thus a remembrance of the Divine intervention in human affairs that the prophets of old were anticipating? Christmas reminds us that those in the minority who had not ever given up waiting or hoping, people like Mary and Joseph or Zechariah and Elizabeth and John the Baptist, members of a faithful remnant in Israel, were surprised perhaps but certainly not disappointed as they not only witnessed but also played a pivotal role in God’s amazing intervention. 

Thus stripped of all that has been heaped upon it culturally and commercially, Christmas is an important annual reminder to all who will listen that God keeps His promises; He did then, He is now, He will certainly do so again, so let us be ever ready! Yet in the meantime, let us not ever give up believing and hoping in His promises no matter what we might have to endure. 

Understood in that light, the Advent-Christmas seasons can be a source of comfort to the sick and the suffering, to the poor and the oppressed, and those who are dying or those who must now mourn. Yet how completely left out do those for whom these seasons should be good news feel when Advent is completely eclipsed by the too early onset of a rather distorted, overly commercialized and sentimentalized Christmas? How can an interpretation of Christmas which is largely void of Christ and which encourages over-consumption of every sort remind anyone that God’s promises are to be trusted and that those who patiently wait in faith for the final fulfillment of these will not be disappointed? 

Ironically, the Advent-Christmas seasons truly belong to the community of faith, but admittedly many even among the faithful cooperate without question as cultural and commercial interests redefine these seasons and exploit them for nonreligious and often less than noble purposes. Can we appreciate that there is great value in keeping the Christmas lights, trees, decorations, parties, and even the carols out of Advent’s symbolic darkness as we find a renewed respect for what this endangered season really means and what it is trying to say especially to all who so desperately need its message? Can we wait in darkness with only the progressive lighting of four candles on a wreath as our decoration until Advent is truly over? Are we willing to wait in solidarity with those who have no choice but to wait in hope for something better as their present circumstances leave them with little to celebrate? As a marked contrast to Advent’s darkness can we wait until the real season of Christmas begins at sunset on the 24th of December to light the candles in our windows and on our Christmas trees and keep these lit until the eighth of January this year? Wouldn’t this go a long way in renewing lights as more than merely a “holiday decoration” but rather as a clear symbol of the presence of Christ Whose coming once in history, now in mystery, and again someday in glory is the true light which dispels all darkness? Can we learn anew how to keep Christmas as a season that lasts until the feast of the Lord’s Baptism and not merely as the eve and day of December 25? 

It is undoubtedly a rather lonely experience to swim against the cultural and social tide and refrain from doing what everyone else seems to be doing from “Black Friday” to December 24 which is celebrating Christmas instead of observing Advent. Yet, if as Christians we don’t try to recover and restore Advent’s importance and its impact by waiting until it is over to fully celebrate the real season of Christmas, then who will? 

Father Healey is pastor of Christ the King Parish in Mashpee. 


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