The meaning of Advent is two-fold. It comes from the Latin adventus, or “coming,” and refers to the first coming of Jesus into the world two thousand years ago, when God took on humanity and entered history to walk among us. But originally, the Church saw in Advent a preparation for the second coming of Jesus at the end of history, when he will establish the new heavens and the new earth. Both meanings are important for you and me today, because it allows us to enter into the mystery of Jesus’ coming among us, speaking with us as a friend speaks to a friend; and it encourages us to look to that day when Jesus “will make all things new” and when he will “wipe every tear from our eyes” (Revelation 21:4-5).
The two meanings, past and future, refer to a single reality: in Jesus, God is truly with us. When Jesus was born to Mary, people felt like God had forgotten about them. The Jewish people were suffering because the Romans had conquered the land that God had promised to them and were interfering in their religious life. It had been hundreds of years since God had sent a prophet to speak his message to his people, and as a result many thought that if things were going to get any better, they were going to have to take matters into their own hands and rely only on themselves. For many people, God and his promises of salvation seemed irrelevant, too far removed from their everyday experience. For some, however, such as Mary and Joseph, they saw in these difficult times the perfect opportunity for God to show his real power, and so they faithfully and expectantly waited for God to show himself in his power and bring to fulfilment all that he said that he would do.
Many of us find ourselves in a similar situation today, in our personal lives. If God is my loving Father, why does he feel so distant? This is why the season of Advent is so important for us today. It reminds us of when Jesus became man so that he could make friendship with God very easy to attain, and it encourages us to look forward to the day when we will no longer suffer, because God is offering us a way out of our pain and loneliness through participation in his heavenly kingdom. Pope Benedict XVI has this to say about Advent:
“Is the humanity of our time still waiting for a Saviour? One has the feeling that many consider God as foreign to their own interests. Apparently, they do not need him. They live as though he did not exist and, worse still, as though he were an “obstacle” to remove in order to fulfil themselves…yet, despite its contradictions, worries and tragedies, and perhaps precisely because of them, humanity today seeks a path of renewal, of salvation, it seeks a Saviour and awaits, sometimes unconsciously, the coming of the Saviour who renews the world and our life, the coming of Christ, the one true Redeemer of man and of the whole of man” (General Audience 20 December 2006).
What we are offered in each Advent is an invitation to invite Jesus into our hearts, so that we can have the power to turn away from sin, which always hurts our relationship with God, and come to behold his love and glory by living like Christ lived. This is why the colour of the liturgical vestments during Advent is violet, which is the colour of penance and sorrow for our sins. Jesus came so that we might be freed from sin and have life in abundance (see John 10:10). This can only happen when we stop doing everything that breaks our relationship with God. Sin is the cause of all suffering in the world. To turn away from sin does not mean being miserable and following a bunch of rules that don’t seem to make much sense. Rather, living a life of holiness, free from sin, even if difficult at first, allows us to know the love of God in a special way which gives us that true joy which no one can take away: “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).
What are some practical steps that each of us can take this Advent to invite the Lord into our hearts as Mary did? I would encourage you to focus on three things to get the most out this Advent:
First, make time for prayer each day. It does not have to be very long if you are just starting off, maybe 10 or 15 minutes. If you feel comfortable with this, maybe consider doing this twice per day, in the morning and in the evening. During this time, talk to God as you would talk to your father. Tell him about your life and ask him for any help that you need in your life. Pray for those that you love so that they might experience the presence of God in their lives too.
Second, find out which sins are keeping you most from experiencing God’s love. It might be helpful to talk to your parish priest or someone else that you trust in spiritual matters. When you go to confession, the priest can help you figure out how to best overcome the sins that are preventing you from experiencing God’s love.
Third, pay special attention to the readings during Mass. Perhaps you could make a commitment to reading the new Sunday reading reflections on this site to deepen your understanding of the Word in Mass. In the readings, God is speaking to each one of us about the wonderful things that he wants to accomplish in each of our lives, just as he spoke them for the first time to the prophets. If you do these three things, it is certain that you will grow closer to God and closer to that final salvation when Jesus comes again. And this salvation is not only for the future, but begins when we decide to let Jesus into our lives.
May you have a blessed Advent!
Patrick Kornmeyer is from Northville, Michigan, and is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in theology at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, after receiving a Bachelor’s degree in history and philosophy.