I confess, I’m guilty. Once Thanksgiving is over, my thoughts turn to Christmas. I put up my tree and decorate the house for that “most wonderful time of the year.” I pull out my Christmas CDs and watch all those great Christmas specials and movies on TV. All these preparations – admittedly, secular – put me in a happy frame of mind and give me a good feeling to welcome my favorite holiday. I don’t want to miss a minute!
At the same time, I don’t lose sight of the real “reason for the season,” the birth of the Savior, God the Father’s gift of his Son Jesus to the world. The four weeks of Advent that precede Christmas Eve and Day keep me focused liturgically, in prayer and worship, on the ancient anticipation of the coming of the Messiah.
In reality, Advent and its conclusion in Christmas, is a “both/and” time. The Lord Jesus has already come, and we can’t pretend or act otherwise. And, yet, special celebrations become all the more rich and meaningful when we prepare for and look forward to them. Think of birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, graduations. The “waiting” is a great part of the fun! Think of Baptisms, First Holy Communions and Confirmations. The preparations make the event a time of special excitement and joy. Hence, the Season of Advent.
As Catholics, it's very important for us to immerse ourselves in this time of spiritual preparation, to listen attentively to the scriptural anticipations of the Messiah proclaimed at Mass, to make time and room for the “Word Made Flesh” in our lives as Advent gradually unfolds the true cause of the Christmas’ “Joy to the World” we sing about. We cannot, we should not, let Advent pass us by without reverent and prayerful reflection on the coming of Christ and its meaning in these next four weeks, despite the signs and symbols of Christmas already on display, surrounding us everywhere we go.
Remember the beloved story of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol?” Who hasn’t read it, or heard it or seen it on stage or screen? Before Ebenezer Scrooge can realize the true meaning of Christmas Day, before Christmas can make the difference in his life and others’ that Christ’s coming was intended to make, three spirits had to prepare him for his transformation: the ghosts of Christmas Present, Past and Future.
Maybe it’s a literary and theological stretch, but his experience of their visits was his Advent. To me, the “specter of Christmas Present” might symbolize the Christ of Mystery, coming to us now, in our everyday life. The “Ghost of Christmas Past” might be the Christ of History, first coming to us that night in Bethlehem. The “Ghost of Christmas Yet to Be” might be a glimpse of the Christ of Majesty who invites us to change, to prepare us to meet him at the end of our lives. Think about it. These three manifestations of Christ are the themes of Advent and lead us to celebrate Christmas Day with joy. It worked for Ebenezer!
Maybe it’s not so bad to read Christmas stories, to sing Christmas songs, to decorate Christmas trees during the season of Advent. They are, after all, reminders of the spiritual goal to which Advent leads. As Catholics, we must ever keep the goal in mind while never forgetting or neglecting the path that takes us there. Happy Advent!