This year, the season of Advent is as short as it can be. Since the final Sunday of Advent is December 24, which coincides with Christmas Eve, Advent is basically just three weeks this year. In fact, the Vigil Masses for the final Sunday of Advent are those of the Solemnity of Christmas which means the final day of Advent is not even a full one. This is quite the opposite from last year when Advent was a full four weeks. However, the brevity of Advent this year encourages us to take the time of this important season seriously before Christmas is upon us.
Last year, on the First Sunday of Advent, Pope Francis reminded us of the significance of Advent in helping us to appreciate each day. Perhaps, with the shortness of Advent this year, his words are even more to be taken to heart. The Pope said that during Advent, "we are called to enlarge the horizons of our hearts, to be surprised by the life that is presented each day with its newness. In order to do this we need to learn to not depend on our own securities, our own established plans, because the Lord comes in the hour which we don't imagine." The Lord certainly will come to us during the brief period of Advent as He comes to us each and every day and being open to His Presence is what truly brings joy to our lives.
During the season of Advent, it is appropriate to look forward to the coming of Christmas and the reality of Christ's presence among us. We associate Advent with expectation and rightly so. However, during the season we usually are hurrying back and forth shopping, decorating, sending greeting cards, and sometimes forgetting what the season is all about as we are caught up in a frenetic pace. Advent does not mean so much coming as it does arrival. Advent is a translation of the Greek word, parousia, which actually means presence or more accurately arrival. An arrival is the beginning of a presence and in ancient days the word was a technical term for the arrival of a ruler who bestowed his parousia on those he visited. The season of Advent, as Pope Francis reminds us, proclaims that God's presence has already begun in our lives in many ways which we do not even imagine. He is with us at every moment and always touching our hearts with His love and mercy.
A simple but powerful symbol during the Advent season is that of the Advent calendar. Its simplicity and childlike attraction remind us of our early years and encourage us to look beyond the counting of days on the calendar. Each day during Advent, a different door is sought on the calendar and it is opened with a picture or small gift behind it. In opening the door there is a newness for the day that is sought especially as Christmas is anticipated through the culmination of the Advent calendar. We are reminded that Christ does come to us in newness each and every day and, in Pope Francis’ words, "we are called to enlarge the horizon of our hearts, to be surprised by the life that is presented each day with its newness." We have to be very vigilant during the season of Advent, so that when we are distracted by so many commercial preparations for Christmas, we do not to lose sight of the beauty and newness of each day in which Christ truly enters our lives. He reminds us that His coming at Christmas is a coming which is already present among us. No material possession or secular celebration of Christmas can replace the joyful hope which is at the heart of Advent. As Pope Francis emphasized last year, "if we allow ourselves be overpowered by a concern for material things, we will not be able to perceive what is much more important." He said that Advent is “an invitation to vigilance, because, not knowing when He will come, we must always be ready to depart.”
The two dominant figures of the season of Advent are those of Our Blessed Mother, Mary, and St. John the Baptist. So vastly different from each other, both awaited the coming of God, but with a keen awareness that He was already present in their lives. They were touched by the newness of His presence each and every day and because of this were able to live in a manner in which they did not depend on their own securities but only upon the security of God. The continual theme of John the Baptist’s message was that "the kingdom of God is at hand" (Mk 1:15). It is not far away, but present and immediate. Mary was so keenly aware of the newness of the presence of God in her life that she looked at Him at every moment even in the events she did not understand. Truly, in her womb the presence of God had already arrived, but that presence continued to develop for her as she gave birth to God's Son and followed Him as His closest companion. Mary and John the Baptist knew how to enlarge the horizons of their hearts and to be enraptured with the newness of each day as it revealed God's presence. They opened each day like a door on the Advent calendar.
We all need to take time to recognize God's Presence on each and every day and in each and every moment. His arrival is already among us. So many moments come before us in which God literally speaks to us and touches us and opens for us a new door showing the newness of life before us. These moments occur in the Eucharist, the Sacraments, living our vocations, through our loved ones, in our daily dealings with others and in the joys and even the sorrows of our lives. In these, God is present in calling us to recognize Him, not in our own securities, but in the joy of His life. Advent, perhaps especially when it is a short season, invites us to dwell on God's presence already among us and to anticipate His continued growth in our lives and in those things that are before us all during the year.
This year, the final day of Advent will provide an especially significant experience. On the same day, we will celebrate Mass for the season of Advent in the morning and then celebrate Christmas in one of the Vigil Masses in the evening. December 24 will place before us Advent and Christmas in the most concrete manner. It will be a day on which the arrival is present. That truly is what the meaning of Advent is all about. May this season, as Pope Francis encourages us, enable us "to be surprised by the life that is presented each day with its newness."
A blessed Advent to all!
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
November 24, 2017