The Greatest Gift is wrapped in fleshBy: Bishop Edward M. Rice
In our modern world of technology, rapid communication, and sense of “immediacy,” does the Season of Advent and its tone of anticipation remain relevant? Or, should we give up the battle of “advent” and go along with the culture of commercialized Christmas? What good is being accomplished as we light an Advent candle week-after-week, knowing full well that almost everything else surrounding us is blaring, “hark the bargains” instead of “hark the herald”?
Of course my answer is absolutely not: do not abandon Advent!
The themes of Advent offer a striking contrast to the commercialized, indulgent culture that otherwise bombards us. To quote Pius Parsch, “What does Advent mean? Adventus Domini means the “coming of the Lord” … Advent is a season of preparation for the Lord’s coming … a time of holy desire, longing, and expectancy (Year of Grace, pg. 18).
Advent, and its themes of longing, waiting, holy desire, and expectancy, is as relevant today as it has ever been. In fact, I would say that we need Advent now more than ever.
‘Time is money’
The commercialism of Christmas tells us that “time is money” and wasting time is wasting money. This is the thinking of our culture. In response, the Church invites Her members to use the four weeks prior to Christmas as a preparation of the heart and mind. Instead of paging through advertisements looking for the latest gadgets we really don’t need, how about taking an inventory of the heart, ridding it of the things that hinder us from receiving the one, true gift: the Christ Child.
Is your heart holding on to anger or revenge? Get rid of it through the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation. Are you plagued by a particular sin that you have given up trying to overcome? Bring it to our Lord in Reconciliation. Be open and prepared, watchful in joyful hope and holy longing.
Shopping & spiritual exercise
How about being more intentional during these weeks of Advent? Attend a weekday Mass or spend an hour in Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. When I was a pastor in St. Louis, I would always tell my people to make a visit to Church every time you go shopping. It is unrealistic to tell people not to shop and prepare for Christmas, so instead, I encourage that you include some spiritual exercise to go along with it.
Does your home have an “Advent Wreath?” I have fond memories of the family Advent Wreath in our home. It was metal, decorated with plastic greenery, but it served it’s purpose. It hung from a hook on the wall and as children we took turns lighting the candles. We had an old pamphlet we used with a different prayer for each week. Nothing fancy is necessary, if you do not have a wreath, go out in the back yard and cut off some greenery to put on the dining room table. Place four candles around it, and there you have it—an Advent Wreath!
So, is Advent relevant for today? Absolutely! In the midst of war and bloodshed we prepare our hearts for the Prince of Peace. In the midst of the darkness of our world, Isaiah proclaims, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.”
We need peace, we need light, we need what Advent offers us—a time of waiting, holy desire, longing, and expectancy. When we embrace this tone and then we finally see the Holy Infant in the manger, it is possible for us to realize that the greatest gift offered to us is wrapped in human flesh, Christ our Savior.
So, let us be intentional during these weeks of Advent. Seek out the Sacrament of Reconciliation and clear your hearts to receive; long for and receive the Eucharist and spend time in Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, waiting. Light a candle week-by-week and illuminate your life and recognize that Jesus the Light of the World, our Prince of Peace, and our greatest gift.
My prayers go out to all of you for a Blessed Advent!