Even though the Christmas season is technically shorter than Advent, it always seems to me that Advent is way too short. Maybe that’s because this is a time of much secular hustle and bustle, as we strive to finish our holiday shopping, participate in various end-of-year parties, and so forth. Christmas may be “the most wonderful time of the year,” but Advent seems to be the most busy time of the year.
I don’t mean (or need) to be another Grinch, complaining about how our secular customs this time of year have destroyed Christmas (and Advent). I like gift-giving and parties, so it’s hard for me to complain too much. But every Advent I resolve “this year will be more contemplative, more restful,” and then I’m off on the roller coaster again.
But maybe this is a metaphor for life as a whole. We wait for the coming of God, and yet we busy ourselves in the meantime. We await the birth of love, yet our lives get so frenzied love hardly has a place to grow. We want time for leisure and rest… but not until the work gets done. And the work keeps coming!
Johann-Baptist Metz suggested that if religion could be defined in one word, it would be “interruption.” And that’s what we are always called to do: interrupt the busy-ness with moments of Sabbath rest. Interrupt the frenzy with a loving, calming breath. Interrupt our endless mental chatter with 20 minutes or so of intentional, prayerful silence.
What’s important to remember, as we transition from Advent to Christmas, is that this dynamic of waiting/busy/interruption doesn’t just happen in Advent. It’s a year-long, ever-present reality.
St. Benedict said that a monk should conduct his or her life as if it were a continual Lent. In other words, we should always strive for greater simplicity and repentance, not just during the forty dears leading up to Easter.
I wonder if we couldn’t say the same thing about Advent? A contemplative needs to lead his or her life as if it were a continual Advent. We continually watch and pray for the coming of Christ into our hearts and the heart of the world. We pray, we watch, we rest, we hope. It’s not a bad way to organize life, when you think about it.I recently got an email from a friend of mine who was reflecting on the theology of the Second Coming. She asked me what I thought, and I had to confess to her I didn’t think about it very much. My spirituality — and, I suppose, my theology — tends to stay focused on the present. But as I thought about her question, I realized that I often hear in the Church this idea that Advent represents not only the waiting for Christ that Mary experienced when she was pregnant, but also our longing for Christ’s return at the end of time.
That may be true, but I also think we need to think in terms of three Advents: past, present, and future. The first was Mary’s Advent; the third is our hope for the final consummation of history in Divine Love. But it’s that “second” Advent, the Advent of the present moment, that interests me the most.
Each one of us is called to be a God-bearer: to bring Divine Love and Mercy and Forgiveness to a world that so desperately needs it. Each of us is called to “birth” Christ anew, in our hearts and in our lives.
So we each are living Advents, embodied spirits of waiting and longing that knows no calendar. The Advent of the present remains with us always. Every day, no matter what season, we are invited to long for the coming of Divine Love, and to give birth to that Divine Love through the ways we cooperate with grace, offering compassion and tenderness to a world that too often seems to have forgotten that such things exist.
So my friends, Advent the liturgical season is about to come to a close. But Advent the spiritual/mystical reality remains in our hearts and our lives. I wish you joy in the longing, and grace in the many opportunities God showers on you to be love and to bring love to others.
And, of course, may you have a joyously merry Christmas!