We're once again entering into a new year in the Church's liturgical calendar. Once again, we begin this new liturgical year by entering into Advent, this four-week period of anticipation, of looking forward. If you ask most Catholics to explain who or what we're looking forward towards, they'll immediately say that we're looking forward to the celebration of Jesus' birth on Christmas. They'd be correct by saying that, but it's not the complete answer. We're also looking forward to Christ's coming again at the end of time.
The word Advent comes from the Latin word "adventus", which translates roughly as "to come to". In this season of Advent, we prepare for Our Lord Jesus Christ "to come to" us, both in His birth which is celebrated at Christmas, but also in His second coming at the end of time. In this way, we join the Jewish people in the anticipation that they must have felt when they heard the promise of the prophet Jeremiah, which we also heard in our first reading. Just as the Jews were waiting for a great king who would free them from slavery and the bondage of the Babylonian exile, we symbolically await the coming of our great King who frees us from the slavery and bondage of sin.
St. Paul reminds us in the second reading that this symbolic anticipation is not the only reason we celebrate this Advent season. By praying that "the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all," St. Paul makes it clear that we should be preparing for "the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones." (1 Thess. 3:12-13)
Sadly, I think this preparation for Christ's second coming has been lost in large part by many Christians today. It seems as if many people view Advent as a period to get everything ready for Christmas. We have to decorate the houses and stores, spend lots of money on Christmas gifts, make Christmas goodies, and watch hours upon hours of Christmas specials. We're pretty clear on the preparing for Christmas, but few recognize the eternal significance of Advent.
Traditionally, Advent has been a time to slow down and reflect on our lives and how we live as Christians, instead of speeding up our lives by shopping, baking, and decorating. It's traditional that decorations within the Church become very simple and meditative, instead of bright and joyous, as we see after Christmas. This time before Christmas needs to be a period in which we reflect if we are "conduct[ing] ourselves to please God," (1 Thess. 4:1) as St. Paul says. If we truly lived Advent as it should be, this would be a period of rest and refreshment before the grand celebrations of the Christmas season to come. Sadly, I think many people are more worn out by preparing for Christmas than they are by the Christmas celebrations themselves!
As we go through this Advent season, we need to keep today's Gospel reading in mind. Jesus tells His disciples that "your redemption is at hand." (Lk. 21:28) He also reminds them to "be vigilant at all times." (Lk. 21:36) Of course, this is good advice for us as well. We do not know when we will be called before the throne of Our Lord's judgment, but Jesus reminds us "that day" will "catch you by surprise like a trap." (Lk. 21:34-35) This season of Advent reminds us that we need to be prepared for the day of judgment that we will all have to face, whether at the end of our lives or when Our Lord returns again at the end of time. In either case, we need to be prepared "to stand before the Son of Man," (Lk. 21:36) and we have been given this season of Advent as a reminder.
As we enter into this Advent season, may we spend this time in prayer and preparation for the coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ, both in our celebration of His birthday at Christmas, and in His second coming at the end of time. Come Lord Jesus!