Having just celebrated Thanksgiving, the season of Christmas is quickly before us. The celebration of Thanksgiving brings us together with our families and has a sense of peace and tranquility to it. Many understandably express how much they enjoy Thanksgiving, but do not look forward to the Christmas season as it brings with it so much preparation and concern of pleasing others. We know that shopping for gifts, sending out cards, decorating, going to parties and preparing events can cause a great deal of exhaustion and even anxiety. It seems that when Christmas arrives there is a sense of relief that it is over. Many times there is also a sense of dissatisfaction since, with all of the preparation and expectation, things do not work out as expected. The perfect gift was not given or received, family problems escalated, cards were too late and many other dissatisfactions were present. It would be wonderful if Christmas had the same sense of peace as Thanksgiving.
This year, we begin the season of Advent on the Sunday immediately following the celebration of Thanksgiving. We are also presented with a season of Advent that only occurs every couple of years: It has a full four weeks to it. It begins on Sunday, November 27, and concludes on Saturday, December 24. Four full weeks! Because of the way the calendar falls, some Advent seasons only have one or two days for the final week of Advent. This is a good year for us to take advantage of the season of Advent in preparing for Christmas and avoiding the frustrations that the Christmas season can bring.
As we begin the season of Advent, we realize that it is a preparation for Christmas. While our time during Advent is so much taken up with the material preparation for Christmas, using the season to concentrate on the spiritual preparation is the only way in which we can avoid the frustrations and anxiety that the Christmas season can bring. Since there are four full weeks of Advent this year, perhaps four points of reflection for these weeks might be a good way to help us prepare for Christmas and enjoy the peace which it and the season of Advent should bring.
The first reflection is the positive nature of anticipation. Advent is a season of anticipation. We are looking forward to celebrating the Birth of the Lord. We are also looking forward to the Lord's coming into our lives each day and ultimately to the coming of His Kingdom. Anticipation is based on the virtue of hope. We need to believe that tomorrow will always be better than today and that something greater is going to happen to us. The joy of looking forward to Christmas is a good and holy anticipation. Christ's birth brings us a joy as it reminds us of God's infinite love and mercy for us as individuals. Christ's birth celebrates that He became one of us and that He dwells among us now - not only when He came to this earth and not only when we are with Him in heaven - but now at each and every moment. Christ's Birth awakens in us a desire to be with Him in this life and to look forward to the fullness of life when He comes again. Looking forward each day during the season of Advent to the celebration of the Lord's Birth instills in us a hope that should be with us all during the year. No material possession or Christmas party can replace that joyful hope.
The second reflection is one that reminds us to be constantly searching in hope to find the treasures which the Lord gives us each day. So many times we are afraid to search and to seek new avenues in our lives. We become complacent with the everyday expectations that others place upon us and we no longer search for meaning and purpose beyond that. We become too preoccupied with what is before us and are afraid to look beyond it. Our lives can have a sense of unfulfillment and we do not know the reason why. To find the treasure which the Lord opens for us, we must not be afraid to look for Him. That may mean change in our lives in the way that we do things. It may mean sacrifice and self-denial. Searching will always bring a treasure of the grace that leads to another. To remain where we are and not to go beyond that is to lose the graces God wants us to have not only during Advent but every day of our lives. Jesus reminds us that we must be in search of the treasure which He gives to us and when we find it, we have such joy that we are willing to risk anything (cf. Mt 13:44 – 50).
The third reflection is that each day brings us a new gift in Christ. Indeed, every day in itself is a new gift. While we have hope for the future and while we are not afraid to search for the treasure of grace, it is in the present moment that we find the presence of God. As we become so preoccupied with others matters, we can often overlook the gift of the present moment. This is especially true during the hectic time of preparation for Christmas. The words of Jesus remind us of this reality during this season of Advent: "The coming of the Kingdom of God cannot be observed, and no one will announce 'look, here it is' or, 'there it is.' For behold, the Kingdom of God is among us" (Lk 17:20 – 21). Our anticipation and our searching cannot lead us away from the present in which we live and find God. It cannot lead us away from the people before us in whom we find God. Each day is a new gift and brings a new gift.
Finally, the fourth reflection is on the season of Advent itself. Advent brings with it the anticipation of the Lord's Birth. The season is meant to help us appreciate the fundamental beauty of Christmas. It matters little whether we send any cards or give any gifts if we have lost the reason as to why we do so. The best greeting and the best gift we can give to anyone, as well as to ourselves, is for us to find the meaning of the Lord's Birth and to share it with our very lives. This is what Advent is all about.
Advent begins a new liturgical year in the life of the Church. It truly is a new year for us. With the season that is before us, with four full weeks, may it be a time for us to reflect upon the treasure of the Lord's Birth and the good news of His of mercy which He brings to us each and every day of our lives. While we truly wish to celebrate the joy of the Christmas season and to be involved in all of the many activities of this time, they will only tire us and cause frustration unless the meaning of Advent enlightens us. During this season may we reflect more deeply upon its meaning in order to bring a fuller joy to our lives. Pope Francis beautifully stated in regard to the season of Advent, “Just as in each of our lives we always need to begin again, to get up again, to rediscover the meaning of the goal of our lives, so also for the great human family it is always necessary to discover the common horizon toward which we are journeying. The horizon of hope! This is the horizon that makes for a good journey. The season of Advent ... restores all this horizon of hope, a hope which does not disappoint for it is founded on God's Word. A hope which does not disappoint, simply because the Lord never disappoints! He is faithful! He does not disappoint! Let us think about and feel this beauty."
A Blessed Advent!
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
November 25, 2016