I love Advent. On the heels of the autumn time change, which renders every evening dark and dreary, twinkling lights gradually appear on houses, delighting with beauty and surprise as they increase in number, day by day.
Christmas cards are prepared, money is budgeted, gifts are purchased, meals and baking projects are planned, get-togethers are organized, and songs are rehearsed at choir practice. It seems that everyone, Christian or otherwise, is preparing for a time of wonder, generosity, unity, and joy.
Advent – a season of contemplation and restraint – brings a wonderful opportunity to add balance to a season which can easily overwhelm with “too much” of basically every good thing. Bible readings remind us of the barren world which existed before the birth of the Saviour. “In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” (Is 40:3)
Our ancestors longed for a direct path to God. They were struggling in the wilderness of uncertainty and didn’t truly understand how or when the Messiah would appear; yet, for generations they hoped, and they waited – many never seeing the results of their lifelong vigils. Our Advent prayers and reflections beg us to take pause, to recall our predecessors’ faith, and to give thanks for the Saviour who changed everything.
In reflecting upon the faith of generations who waited for Jesus’ birth, I try to identify with their patience, and it is challenging. After all, I find it difficult to wait 30 seconds for an email to send when my Internet connection slows down, or to be understanding when my doctor’s office overbooks appointments. My modern-day understanding of “waiting” is shameful; therefore, the idea of needing to wait until Dec. 25 to open a gift or to eat a special food is good for my self-restraint.
Advent not only reminds me to reflect on life before Jesus was born, it gives me the opportunity to prepare and wait for his return. In the hymn People Look East we sing, “Love, the guest, is on the way” and we are encouraged to focus on welcoming Jesus – our most important guest – as we prepare for gatherings of loved ones.
Our love for family and friends cannot overshadow our love for Christ and our preparation for his second coming. We need to prepare in a way that honours God’s plan for us, not only during Advent, but all year long. We do not know when Christ will return or if our earthly lives will end before he does; nevertheless, we must be ready.
As Dr. MaryRuth Hackett reflects, “There is much in daily life for which we can prepare. We can prepare for a birthday party or a special date. We can prepare for the first day of school or a big day at work. We can prepare for a vacation. But that is preparation for living in this world, not in the next. Preparation for the end occurs in the mundane routine, daily prayer, and the little sacrifices. There are times when I say no to loved ones because it doesn’t fit in my obscure timeline. Preparing in a way that matters means saying yes to love and letting go of my agenda. It means saying yes to his agenda.”
Like most other people, I spend the weeks before Christmas checking off items on my own agenda and trying to fit too many things into a short period of time; yet, I have Advent. As a Christian, Advent reminds me to stop and take the time to pray and remember the true reason for the season. Each year, I strive to keep my perspective balanced. I am human, however, and not perfect. I know that I can do a better job of preparing for Jesus.
As my parents’ former priest, Father Dariusz Lewandowski, said in Advent 2013, “We think of Advent as waiting for Christmas, but really it’s Christ waiting for us to make him the biggest priority in our lives. How many more Advents – how many more Lents – do we need to live through before he is first? He doesn’t get upset with us for taking our time.”
Let now be the time – Christ’s time.