We have entered the Church’s New Year, and as in January’s New Year, we begin December’s Advent with penitential prescriptions. Instead of making resolutions (usually fitness), we clean out our hearts. Both beginnings call us to change for the better, to repent and resolve. In so doing in this season of Advent, we prepare ourselves for the greatest of all festivals, the Nativity of Jesus Christ, Christ-Mass.
Advent is called “Little Lent” for this reason. We scour our souls with the Word of God, with His Word of Creation, with Christ Himself in the Eucharist. We look for our failings, our sins, our unlove. For our Creator will re-create us in His image as we were meant to be. As we submit to our Father’s will for us, we discover our true selves. It is in this prayer, “Thy will be done,” that we find joy, a mysterious and miraculous, and even surprising, joy.
Advent calls us to pay attention to these joyful moments. We watch for Christ’s second coming, the advent of the New Jerusalem, and the advent of Judgment. For Advent means “coming,” and we are reminded of the three advents of Christ – the coming to mankind as a baby in Bethlehem, the coming to mankind in judgment in the New Jerusalem, the coming of Christ in the Eucharist today, filling our hearts. And so in Advent we prepare for His coming to us at Christmas, for this coming will change mankind forever. We clean out our hearts to make room for the Savior of the World. We pay attention. We re-mind one another through ritual and song.
The Church Year cycle invites us to dance through Time to prepare for Eternity. The nine seasons tell the greatest story of all, that of God’s immense love for mankind and his desire to share Eternity with us. We tell the story of redemption (crucifixion and resurrection) and salvation (our saying yes to God); we sing the story in hymns and in liturgies and in pageants and in processions. We dance this dance of life, and in the dance we learn to love one another. We learn to share. We learn to give. We learn to step outside our prison of self and, slowly, miraculously, we learn to see one another more clearly. We learn to listen, to hear the music of the spheres, the perfect harmonies of the universe.
And so in this season of Advent, when daylight is shortened and darkness lengthens, this season of cold and silence, when natural world shrinks and hibernates, sleeping and waiting for spring – in this season of Advent, we look to the bright lights of Christmas. We cast our eyes upon Mary, our Mother, and her story of obedience. We watch her say yes to God, and in this “fiat” we learn obedience too. We watch her journey to Bethlehem with her faithful Joseph, and we learn patience and fortitude and trust. We watch her seek a safe place to bear her child, the Son of God, which she finds in a dark cavern. We journey with her.
As we journey we sing carols that tell of these magnificent acts of God. The poetry and the rhyme, the melody and the meanings, invite us to journey with Mary and Joseph. With the bright stars and the glorious angels we too pay homage to the King of Kings born in a manger on Christmas Day. With these hymn-stories we become part of the re-creation of the world. We live inside these love-songs. We dwell there, in the Bethlehem manger, where the shepherds bow to the newborn King, where the magi from afar bring gifts to honor His priesthood, His kingship, and lastly, His death that will redeem the world with resurrection.
And as we journey through the year, we hold the hands of our children, to show them what God has revealed to us. We teach them to clean out their hearts to make room for Him, so that they too can glimpse glory, the glory of the only Begotten:
“And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us (and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only Begotten of the Father), full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14, KJV)
We dance the dance of life through the year, so that we may vanquish the dirge of death. We journey with Mary who carries the Christ Child in her womb, and as we celebrate the Holy Child within her, we celebrate all children, born and unborn. We celebrate all mothers and fathers who trust in their Creator to bring them through the rough times, so that they can fully enjoy the good times, the truly God-times.
We journey in the dark of night to emerge into the light of day. We see our way with the our flaming candles, three purple and one pink, lighting our way through Advent, bringing us to the glory of Christmas morning.