We're getting into that time of the year when we begin to see Christmas decorations in shops, and songs like Jingle Bells start creeping into the radio waves. The joy of Christmas, in the form of outward signs and symbols, is beginning to build, culminating in stockings and gift exchanges and family dinners on Christmas Day. While the anticipating is building out in the world, the Church invites us into a time of intentional preparation for the coming of Christ in the season of Advent.
In the Western calendar, Advent doesn't begin until the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day - this year, on December 2nd. But in the Eastern rites, the season before Christmas is called the "Nativity Fast", and it begins tomorrow - 40 days before Christmas. What's with the difference?
While the precise origins of Advent are obscure, as the liturgical celebration of the birth of Christ grew in popularity, so did the Church's call to prepare for it. In the fifth century, the Bishop of Tours in what is now southern France directed that the faithful fast for three days per week for the forty days between the Feast of St. Martin (November 11th) and Christmas. For this reason, Advent is still often referred to as "St. Martin's Lent." While the strict fasting requirements faded over the centuries in the West, we still hear themes of penitence and self-denial in our Advent liturgies, as well as a call to prepare ourselves for the threefold coming of Christ in our lives: in the manger at Christmas, in the bread and wine at Holy Communion, and when he shall come as judge at the end of the ages.
Advent is certainly counter cultural in the year 2018! You and I will likely attend more Christmas parties in the month of December than we will Advent-specific gatherings. As you would expect from your priest, I am extending an invitation to you to join with the Church as we prepare for the coming of Christ. Like Lent, there are opportunities to take up a new practice or consider giving something up, or preferably, a mixture of both.
Here are some ideas on how you might engage in this spiritual preparation:
Out of an intentional Advent preparation comes a truly glorious Christmas. The reality is that we are in the time of waiting for the baby, but when the baby is born, all happiness breaks loose. We will celebrate Christmas together on Christmas Eve with Solemn High Mass with full choir at 10:30 p.m. (choral prelude beginning at 10:00 p.m.) and Sung Mass on Christmas morning at 10:00 a.m. with carols.
I invite you to a holy Advent of preparation, patience, and hopeful anticipation for the coming of our Savior Jesus Christ.
Fr. Charles Everson works as a banker by day and a priest by night. His love for music and liturgy led him to a suburban parish as a simple chorister, and as of late, to St. Mary's as a priest. He feels called to share the love of Jesus Christ with a broken world in desperate need of hope and reconciliation.