The Advent ExperienceBy: Donna Kendall
Each year it seems that Christmas lights, decorations, and trees adorn shopping centers, stores, and homes earlier and earlier in the fall. We are reminded that Christmas will be here soon and it’s never too early to begin preparing. The Catholic Church reminds us, though not for the same consumerism goals, that Christ’s birth is approaching by celebrating the season of Advent. We spend time reading Advent reflections and scripture passages about watchfulness, preparation, and waiting for the arrival of the Son of Man. Isaiah’s prophetic messages foretell the joyfulness of the days to come when the virgin shall conceive and bear a son and shall name him Emmanuel. The anticipation rises and we can get caught up in the excitement of the season which builds up to the day when we are filled with the exhilaration of the Christmas narratives.
At the time, a variety of characters filled the roles which played out one of the most important events in history. We read about Mary’s kinswoman Elizabeth conceiving a son though she was thought to be barren. We read of Zechariah’s incredulous reaction which questions the ways of God. There is John, who in his mother’s womb, leaps for joy. Main characters include the angel Gabriel who is sent to tell Mary the good news that she is to bear a son, the Son of the Most High, and there is Joseph whose role it is to care for his wife, Mary, and the baby—the Son of God. There are angels who sing God’s praise and rejoice at the birth of Jesus. There are shepherds who seek out this newborn king. There is an innkeeper who makes room for the little family in his stables, and there are Magi who travel great distances to present the Christ Child with gifts and pay homage to him. There is also King Herod, a political leader, who feels threatened by the news that a powerful king is born.
But there are plenty of other characters in this event—those whose stories we do not know but can surmise. There were Roman soldiers and governors who could care less about Jewish prophesies or a Messiah unless it posed a threat to their rule. There were census takers who found themselves working overtime during this busy time of year. There were other innkeepers who said they had no room for a man travelling with his pregnant wife. There were merchants and businessmen peddling their wares for all the travelers, and there were plenty of ordinary citizens who went about their lives, working, raising their families, doing their shopping—just trying to get through life.
Your place in the story
The burning question during Advent is: who are we? What role do we play in this important event? With whom do we identify the most? In order to begin the Advent experience discover your place in the story:
- Are you like Elizabeth, whose emptiness is filled with the hope of things to come?
- Are you like Zechariah, whose skepticism has unexpected consequences?
- Do you feel like John, leaping for joy when encountering Jesus?
- Are you eager to spread the message of Christ’s arrival, like the angel Gabriel or the choir of angels?
- Are you open to God’s will, like Mary, whose “yes” became a song of praise for our salvation?
- Perhaps you feel more like Joseph, identifying the responsibilities of accepting Jesus into your life.
- It’s possible to feel more like the shepherds or innkeeper who were busy working but made time or space for Christ. Or are we more like the Magi, willing to go to any length to seek Christ and offer ourselves to him?
- Perhaps we wish to reject it all and eliminate it like Herod?
Unfortunately, there may be times when we feel detached from this story. We may feel caught up in life and the world around us.
- Do we identify more with the Romans who cared little for prophesies of a coming Messiah?
- Are we more like the census takers who are working extra during this time of year and have no time for the spiritual preparations of Advent?
- Do you feel overwhelmed like the innkeepers who were unaffected by those in need during this time of year?
- Perhaps you are in the position of the merchants or consumers who can benefit from Black Friday sales.
- Most likely, many of us can fall into the category of the ordinary citizens, just trying to work, raise our families and get through life the best we can.
Advent is a time of Hope, Love, Joy, and Peace. It is also a time of reflection—by understanding if the role we play can lead us closer to God, or if our role has led us away from Him. If we begin the Advent season by identifying with the active roles in this story, we can discover more deeply where we can find hope, and offer hope to others. We can grow in our love of God sharing more fully in the divine plan. We can experience the joy that comes from deepening our relationship with God. We can ultimately find the peace that comes from living in the light of Christ. However, if our reflections help us recognize that we play the less active, background roles in our salvation story, we understand that the story continues, with or without our participation. We can work to play a more active role. We can become involved in works of mercy, reading Advent reflections and scriptures. We can pray. The season of Advent brings about change. The events of two thousand years ago changed the world, experiencing Advent personally today can change our hearts.
“Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” [1 Jn 3:2]
Donna Kendall is a Catholic wife, mother, and grandmother. She has taught in Catholic schools and written for Catholic publications. Currently, she is working and studying toward making her final profession in the Secular Franciscan Order. She enjoys traveling to Italy to visit family and making side-trip pilgrimages along the way. This article was previously published at Catholic365 Online.