27 November 2011

1st Sunday in Advent

Weather: The last Sunday of the month indicates the weather for next month.


O come, O come Emanuel
And ransom captive Israel...

Today is the first Sunday in Advent, Dominica prima Adventus, and the beginning of the Advent Season.  It is also the beginning of the Liturgical Year.

During Advent, the Church prepares herself for the Feast of Christmas, with prayer and works of penance and charity.  The days between now and Christmas Eve are penitential in tone – something of a Little Lent.  The liturgical color is violet (with the exception of the third Sunday – Gaudete – when the rosacea color is worn), and the mood is both solemn and joyful.  Advent is more than just waiting for Christmas.  It is more than a Child being born.  We anticipate not only Our Lord’s First Coming but also His Second, and to that end must ask ourselves, as we should each day, “Am I ready to meet Him?  Will he say to me, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant’ or ‘Depart from me – I know you not!’?  Are there sins unconfessed?  Have I done as He commanded, or have I buried the talent He gave me?”

We prepare for a new baby in the family by getting together the materials that will keep the newborn clean, healthy, and comfortable.  We set up the nursery, we clean it and keep it clean, we make and keep appointments with our physicians, we listen to the wisdom of those who have been through this, we spend a lot of time making sure that everything is ready and in place for the reception of this newest miracle.  There is joyful anticipation, and there is also trepidation.

Advent is like that.  The nursery is ourselves, which, contrary to popular opinion, is not cleaned once and then left.  No one would clean a room once and expect it to stay that way.  Sin enters and dirties the cleanest soul, and the only way to get rid of it is by confession, penance, and absolution.  Accepting Jesus as your Lord and Savior is all fine and good, but you should not expect him to be some kind of Merry Maid who automatically cleans up after you.  Confess your sins, as often as need be, to keep the room clean.

Make and keep appointments with your priests and spiritual advisors, for your soul’s health.  Read theologically sound treatises to strengthen you on the path; the Church Fathers (and Mothers) have been through this – listen to them and apply their wisdom to your own life.  Spend a lot of time getting ready for Him.  Then you will have more joy at the thought of His coming, and less trepidation.

Fisheaters has a good overview and ways to celebrate.   The most famous tradition is the Advent Wreath with four candles; the first, the candle of the Patriarchs, is lit tonight.  Also well-known are Advent Calendars, which usually start on December 1st and go until December 24.  Commercially made calendars have religious pictures and a verse of scripture behind each door, or a piece of chocolate, or a small ornament.

Less well-known are Jesse Trees, wherein one reads the appropriate Bible story or verses before placing the night's ornament on the tree.  It is based on Isaiah 11:1-2,
And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots: and the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him: the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and fortitude, the spirit of knowledge, and of the fear of the Lord.

All of these (except possibly the chocolate) are good ways to spiritually strengthen us and remind us of the real reason for the season: He is Coming!

Lights!  Glitter!  Action!

Many, if not most, people have already put up their Holiday tree, decorated the house, put up the outside lights (which will stay there until March, because nobody is going out in the ice and snow to retrieve them), and started playing endless loops of carols.  The stores certainly have been doing this for the last month.  There is a mad rush to make everything magazine-worthy - perfect Holiday Entertaining with perfect-but-never-tried-before Holiday Recipes, perfect Holiday Presents wrapped in perfect Holiday Gift-wrap, perfect Holiday Decorating with the latest in perfect Holiday Ornaments... all accompanied with perfectly pasted-on Holiday Smiles and Good Cheer, and surrounded by perfect Holiday Music.

By the time Christmas arrives, everyone is sick of it. 

This year, try something different.  Treat Advent as it should be treated - as a time for spiritual reflection and anticipation of Our Lord's Coming.  Strengthen your faith by reading a theological book - we should be able to explain our faith at all times; if you cannot, it is time to put in some study.  Increase your works of spiritual and corporeal mercy - alms if you can, but prayers are something anyone can do.  Read the prayers and verses that accompany each candle, calendar day, or Jesse Tree ornament with your family at night.

I'm not asking you to give up the decorating, et al, until Christmas Eve (which is when it was traditionally done, by the way).  Certainly shopping for presents is in order.  But maybe this year, put off the decorating until a week before, perhaps to celebrate the beginning of the Golden Nights on December 17.  That way, you won't be tired of Christmas when it finally arrives, and you can go on celebrating for the Twelve Days following.

[For those of you who have put up the lights on your houses and yards - thank you!  They are a lovely sight on the commute home at night.]