Recently before the start of Mass, I was going over the readings. Though I don’t normally pay attention to the reflection above the first reading, this time I took notice. It said Advent is a time to prepare.
“Advent is significantly shorter this year. Last year Advent began on November 27; this year it begins nearly a whole week later. It makes us even more anxious. We have less time to buy presents, write cards, bake cookies, decorate the home, prepare for gatherings, and so on. The passage from Mark’s Gospel we hear today warns us to be ready, but in a different sense. We are to be prepared, not in the sense of having presents wrapped and tree trimmed, but prepared to receive Christ into our lives in a special way. The people of Isaiah’s time were not prepared. They had turned away from God time and again. The prophet admonishes God’s people, himself included, saying, “we have all withered like leaves,” an image certainly appropriate to this season (Isaiah 64:5). But the passage closes with the assurance that God can mold us, as a potter works the clay. The Christian community in Corinth allowed this to happen and Saint Paul assures them that God “will keep you firm to the end,” molding them, as it were, into a faithful people (1 Corinthians 1:8). How have you allowed God to mold you? Are you firm in your faithfulness to God?” – We Celebrate Worship Resource, Vol. 42, No. 2
A Time to Prepare
As part of my youth ministry job, I like to find and add an interesting Catholic fact to our weekly bulletin. Just this past week, I wanted to learn more about Advent – its origins and how some of our practices came about. According to Catholic Online, “While we typically regard Advent as a joyous season, it is also intended to be a period of preparation, much like Lent. Prayer, penance, and fasting are appropriate during this season.”
Truth be told, I had never thought about Advent as a time to prepare. For me, in the past, I just considered it as four weeks of buying presents, enduring the same twenty Christmas songs on the radio, and watching the Christmas “classics” on TV. I thought I understood the significance of Advent and Christmas, but I couldn’t get excited about the season.
Does this sound familiar to you? Have you ever thought or felt this way? Even Charlie Brown in A Charlie Brown Christmas remarked, “I think there must be something wrong with me[.] Christmas is coming, but I am not happy. I don’t feel the way I’m supposed to feel. I just don’t understand Christmas, I guess. I like getting presents and sending Christmas cards and decorating trees and all that, but I’m still not happy. I always end up feeling depressed.”
Looking at Advent in a new light
Maybe some of us need to look at the season of Advent in a new light. Maybe, like Charlie Brown, we’ve allowed our perceptions of Advent and Christmas to be influenced too much by commercialism and the culture. While there’s certainly nothing wrong with celebrating the birth of Our Lord, maybe we should be focusing more on what’s going on inside of us. By that, I mean, our personal relationship with God. Did we draw closer or farther away from God? How did we live our faith in the last year, and how did we treat other people?
In what ways did we resist God this past year? Were there certain areas of our lives that we wanted to keep hidden from His healing gaze – addictions, obsessions, fears, anxieties, and doubts? Were there times when we felt compelled to do the right thing, to reach out to a person in need, but instead we preferred to stay inside our comfort zones, or chose to do what we knew was wrong? Are there dark corners of your life that feel empty or even dead?
Let’s not forget what Jesus said in John 10:10, “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” He came to set us free from sin and death. We often say that, but I wonder how often we take that phrase for granted. Maybe we need to shift our focus about this as well. Think about it this way instead: “God loves YOU so much that He came down to Earth and was born in the humblest of circumstances. He did this to be one with YOU, and He ultimately died to set YOU free from sin and death. He loves YOU so much that He wants nothing to separate YOU from Him.”
Preparing for Christ’s Coming
Now, looking at Christ’s coming in this light, can anyone honestly admit they wouldn’t want to be desired like this? To have God pursue them in this way? To be loved so wholly and completely? In Sacred Scripture Christ is often referred to as “the Bridegroom.” And, if the Church is His “Bride,” then it makes perfect sense that we should prepare to receive Him into ourselves and into our lives.
This Advent, we need to open ourselves up to Christ and show Him everything: the good, the bad, and the ugly. We have to be willing to allow Him to get uncomfortably close – to see those hidden parts that we’re afraid to reveal. Just like a faithful and loving Bridegroom, He won’t turn away in disgust or grow tired of you. His loving gaze always remain on you as He helps you through the struggles in life – both internal and external. If we allow Him into these places, He’s ready, willing, and able to heal us and free us.
So, this Advent, let’s allow ourselves to be molded and transformed by His Love.