The Liturgical year begins much as it ended. With the last few Sundays of the year, the Church offers for our prayer Scripture passages about the end of the world and the role that Christ plays as King of the universe. Advent begins this year on Dec. 2 with a similar theme.
It wouldn’t be obvious by judging from the popular culture, which this year had Christmas beginning sometime in mid-September with decorated trees and wrapped presents on full display, but the Church offers a special season of preparation for the coming of Christ’s birth.
Advent means simply “to come to,” and for this reason the four week period before Christmas has a two-fold character. The days leading to Dec. 17 focus on the final coming of Christ at the end of time while the days from Dec. 17 until Christmas itself focus on the birth of the Christ child.
It seems strange that the Church would ask us to consider the end of the world in such close proximity to the birthday of the Savior, but one word links the two themes together: hope. As humans, unlike every other creature, we have the ability to consider the future and that is what leads to expectation.
Each of us live by it; without it we become sad people and have no discernible purpose. As people of faith, then, the Church asks us to consider the final coming of Christ to remind us in what, or perhaps we should say, in whom we should place our hope.
Hope is the virtue by which we desire eternal life and the grace we need to obtain it. It is no surprise that this is the overarching theme of the time before Christmas. In the Gospel of Luke, from which we will hear on the first Sunday of Advent this year, Jesus reminds us not to allow our hearts to become drowsy from drunkenness, carousing, or the anxieties of life. All of those things are used to numb our pain in the absence of hope.
As the end of time draws near Jesus says that nations will be in dismay at the signs observable from the sun, the moon and the stars because a lack of hope will eliminate the eternal perspective of our existence.
It is sad that in our day 45 percent of people surveyed respond that they would rather forego Christmas this year. The reason cited for this sentiment was the hustle and bustle of buying gifts in light of the difficult economic circumstances.
It is sad that we have come to equate gift receiving with hope. This Advent it would be better to focus on the gift God has already given us in Christ. After all, when the end does advent, or come to us, we who have lived in undaunted hope despite difficulties will have nothing to fear.