The webpage of the Youth Ministry of the Irish Province of Augustinians

Second Sunday of Advent - Year C


Sometimes when we are trying to describe something it is easier to say what it is not than to pin down precisely what it actually is.  For example, if you are trying to describe an emotion, or if you have an ache or a pain, it can be easier to say it’s not exactly this or that and in that way, give a description of what is going on for you.

 

In some ways Advent is a little bit like this.  Perhaps due to the fact that it is in such a close relationship with Christmas which is such an appealing time; Advent has become almost the poor relation at this time of the Church’s year.  Advent and Christmas are closely related but they are not actually the same thing and, importantly, Advent is not just a prelude to Christmas even though it does also fulfil this function.

 

Advent is not simply a preparation for Christmas.  Even though it is closely related to Christmas it also stands alone as a time of grace for all believers.  Advent is not a time when we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.  Jesus was born once, roughly 2000 years ago, and will not be born again.  Sometimes preachers and spiritual writers like to say that we are preparing for Jesus to be born in our hearts.  Jesus has already been born in our hearts.  As a matter of fact, by means of our baptism, Jesus has become an integral part of our whole existence – not just our hearts.  The issue, in this regard is not so much about Jesus being born in our hearts, but about allowing his life to pour forth through our lives.

 

In baptism we became part of the Church which is the Body of Christ.  We are already part of Christ who was born for us in Bethlehem and into whom we were introduced by our being baptised.  The Holy Spirit lives within us already and will be as alive and active as we allow God to be and this notion of “allowing God to be active in our lives” is very much at the heart of what Advent is all about.

 

A lot of the imagery we come across in the Advent readings has to do with preparing the way. So what are we preparing for if we are not preparing for Christmas?  And what are we preparing?  Why are we preparing? 

 

Preparation in the Christian context almost always has to do with penance and conversion.  Penance is never just about doing unpleasant things – it always includes the three pillars of prayer, fasting and almsgiving.  If it doesn’t include all three then it is quite possible that we are not actually doing penance at all.  The exercise of penance is intended to lead us to a re-evaluation of our lives and a refocusing of our efforts to follow what the early Christians referred to as “the Way”.  This is what conversion is all about.  Stepping back from our current practices and turning again towards the Lord.

 

So, Advent is a time when we are led to concentrate on how we are in relation to God.  This is intended to be a time when we discipline ourselves by reigning in ourselves and restarting.  This is appropriate at the beginning of the Church’s year as we begin to journey forward.  At the beginning of any journey, particularly a significant one, we always plan.  We pack food and clothing; we check timetables; we announce our intention to travel; we make arrangements with neighbours and friends to mind the house and care for the cat.  Similarly, as we begin our Church’s year, we prepare.  This is the answer to our first question; what are we preparing for?  We are preparing for our journey which will take us through the mysteries of Christ over the coming year.  But this journey is not just ours alone; it is our journey as part of the Christian community which is why we prepare together.  Each one of us, in our own way, contributes to the ability of this community to journey forward.  And each one of us, in our own way, ensures that this community remains open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit who will guarantee that we do not lose our way as we journey forward together.

 

What do we prepare?  The answer to this question is twofold.  We prepare principally ourselves by our works of penance (prayer, fasting and almsgiving).  These works of penance, of course, will make no sense unless they lead us to an honest assessment of how we are in relation to God, in relation to others, and, which is often forgotten, in relation to ourselves.  This focus on ourselves is important but will become unhealthy unless it accompanied by a focus on the needs of our community.

 

Our baptism not only places us firmly in the life of Christ but also in the life of Christ’s Church.  Where do we see ourselves fitting in to this community of the faithful given that each one of us is gifted and blessed not for our own benefit but for the benefit of the whole community? This becomes the question that each one of us needs to ask.

 

The bottom line is I suppose is that Advent, like every other moment in the Church’s year, is a time when we try to live out our baptismal calling.  Advent is about beginnings and, as we will be hearing constantly throughout these four weeks it is also about completions.  While the Church’s year goes in a circle, our lives do not – even though while you are doing your Christmas shopping you might well feel that you are going around in circles.  Each one of us will die and our world will eventually end.  Advent puts this reality firmly before our eyes.

The message of Advent is that time is passing.  As time passes we often don’t notice it.  Advent encourages us to begin again; constantly begin again; to never feel that we have completed our task of living out our baptismal calling so that when the Lord either calls us, or comes to claim us, we will be ready.

 

Christmas celebrates the God with us – Emmanuel.  Advent celebrates the God who sends us out and also comes to receive us.  It is the same God who fulfils both functions.  As we celebrate Advent, and as our minds are very much tuned in to celebrating the God with us, born in the manger at Christmas, let us not forget the God who invites us to journey, to become, to be transformed.  It is the same God but if we do not choose to journey with the infant of Bethlehem the great message of Christmas might well be lost.




Article posted on 6th of December 2015

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