I love the Christmas season, even if prior to becoming a Catholic I tried to invent it myself. Admittedly it was an inchoate creation, based upon buying little treats each week, which I would hide away, in preparation for Christmas day. These were not, mind you, gifts for family members, just chocolates, candies, statues of Saint Nicholas, little crèches, anything that heightened my sense of the coming of Christmas. As Christmas arrived, I would find my bounty and pull it out for all to enjoy. I still do this, but now the spiritual and liturgical context is clear: Advent is the longing for the Savior, a penitential season of preparation for the Incarnate One. The New Catholic Encyclopedia describes the origins of Advent in the Church: “It was not until the birth of Christ was celebrated throughout the Church that Advent came into existence at all. Its name is derived from the ancient name for the feast, for Adventus, Epiphania and Natale are all synonymous first for the Incarnation itself, then for the feast that commemorates and celebrates the Incarnation. Christmas, as well as Epiphany, is not only the commemoration of the birth of Christ as a historical event, it is also and much more the celebration of the coming of God in the flesh as a saving event. The very celebration itself is a saving event that brings about the coming of Christ among humanity and anticipates his return in glory. The term Advent gradually came to designate the time before Christmas” (W. J. O’Shea and S. K. Roll, 133-34). Advent is a time of waiting, and as Tom Petty argued, “the waiting is the hardest part.” Is the waiting the hardest part? To me, it is and it isn’t. There is something about the anticipation of the coming of Jesus Christ as vulnerable infant, in the flesh, that is simply exciting. Every year it is new, every year it is a joy.
Every year, too, as we prepare for Christmas, we are made aware that we prepare not only to remember and rejoice in Christ’s first coming, but in his second coming. The readings for the first Sunday of Advent ask us to prepare spiritually for the coming of Christ. The Gospel of Luke has Jesus asking us to “Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life” (Luke 21: 34). Paul asks the Thessalonians, and us, “to strengthen your hearts, to be blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones” (1 Thessalonians 3: 13). It is a reminder that we must prepare, that we await in anticipation the coming of the Lord, not only in his lowliness, but in his glory. This is exciting and apart from preparing spiritually, I am so hoping I can find my favorite licorice all-sorts this year. I will hide them until Christmas and then we can all share a little bit of sweetness and a whole lot of joy. I love the waiting. I am so excited, Christmas is coming!