The world has forgotten Advent. We go from Thanksgiving and Halloween directly to the “Holiday Season,” with Christmas Day as its culmination. It is all tinsel and chimes and Hallmark Card warm-and-fuzzy movies.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that (said with just a hint of eye roll). We need a time when we can indulge in a little good cheer and family fun without guilt. We need a reason to celebrate the goodness that is at the heart of humanity. We need a little family time.
But that is not Advent. These specially marked four weeks prior to Christmas have evolved in response to an even deeper human longing. Throughout our history, humanity has cried out for deliverance — from poverty, disease, oppression, loneliness, a lack of meaning. Indeed, we long for deliverance from our fallen human nature. During Advent, those longings are recognized for what they are. In the days prior to Dec. 25, we are reminded of what is truly important to being human. And that our salvation is in God incarnated in a baby, one Jesus of Nazareth.
The readings at Sunday Mass during Advent remind us in beautifully poetic language that we can be better than what we are. In each Sunday, Isaiah describes a far better place, a place of peace, harmony and plenty, where “they shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” (Isaiah 2).
Even the animals get a better shake: “The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them” (Isaiah 11).
Instead of anxiety and stress, there is joy: “…they shall obtain joy and gladness and sorrow and sighing shall flee away” (Isaiah 35).
At the centre of it all is an innocent child, a Saviour, who calls us to simply have faith and be kind to each other. In fact, Paul’s letters and Matthew’s gospels in the Sundays of Advent mostly exhort us to welcome each other, have patience with our neighbours, look to our own behaviour to be sure we are practising what we preach. And wait in prayerful anticipation.
Lately, such sentiments seem total fantasy. Everywhere we look, there are wars, famines, natural disasters and our own self-inflicted idiocies manifest in our politics, cultural quarrels, and economic systems. We despair of deliverance and then turn to snake-oil salesmen, buffoons who bluster and bully their way into positions of authority, which they then exploit for their own self-aggrandisement. We all know who they are.
In such a cynical and corrupt time, Advent is needed more than ever. By all means, let’s keep on buying gifts for our loved ones, let’s decorate the house and have everyone over for turkey and a drink or two. Let’s remember how much we really do need each other.
Those festivities are our own very human way of filling that empty place in our hearts. Advent gives us a chance to be intentional about taking it to the next level.
–Joseph Sinasac, Publishing Director