Father Michael F.X. Hinkley
As Catholics, our observance of Advent is our strongest response to a frenzied holiday season of shopping, office parties, social events and greeting cards. The season of Advent affords all Christians time to appreciate the greatest affirmation man has ever received – the Nativity of the Savior.
The birth of God as man is itself an act by God of profound humility. The Christ is not to be found in a palace or in a family of social advantage. Without any loss to his being God, Jesus is born in the poverty of the stable. He takes on flesh and all that being human entails save sin. God humbles himself to show us his way of love (Ps 25:9). His experience of poverty isn’t limited to the economic; he enters the poverty of all mankind. God, who is love, comes to know the ravages of our human pain, prejudice and persecution from within the frame of human experience. God comes with glorious works not for his sake, but ours (Is 11:1-10)! He comes in a free act of love, to be with us just as one friend lovingly desires time with the other friend. With this wonderful expression of God’s love for mankind, we, as the people of God, are filled with great anticipation, hope and joy!
Especially on the third Sunday of Advent, known as Gaudete Sunday, the Church notes with special joy the promise of redemption of mankind by Jesus Christ. In a special way, our celebration is with the Lord as he proclaimed his wonders to the disciples of John the Baptist: “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them” (Mt 11:4-5).
Unlike any other time of year, this holy season can lift our collective spirit and renew within us the purity and the call to holiness. We rejoice, for our Salvation is promised in the coming of God’s Anointed: “Let the earth open and salvation bud forth, let justice also spring up! I, the Lord, have created this” (Is 45:8). This joyful season of hope and spiritual expectation, Advent, not only prepares us for our observance of the Nativity, it also turns our minds and hearts to the second coming of the Savior. Thus, this season of preparation invites us to recall our destiny in and with God in heaven!
The community of faith gathers for this child, the Savior who offers salvation. Joseph was promised by a dream: “He will save his people from their sins” (Mt 1:21). Here the Savior calls to all mankind: “Turn to me and be safe, all you ends of the earth, for I am God; there is no other... To me every knee shall bend; by me every tongue shall swear, Saying ‘Only in the Lord are just deeds and power’” (Is 45:21-23)!
With this call to salvation and its grace of eternal life, the humble Nativity entails our conversion to a place in the light. “Let us then throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light” (Rom 13:12). By heeding Advent’s quiet expectation of salvation, all the earth may be filled with God’s glory (Ps 72:19).
With eyes of faith, Advent is both a season of preparation for the great feast of Christmas and a revelation of man’s anticipation of eternal life. While secular society can distract us in this holy season, Christians must observe Advent as a sincere occasion of faith. As we recall the coming of Christ as man and God, we also are to consider his second coming.
Living with all the trappings of the holiday season can be Christ-centered. We need to remind ourselves of the true meaning of our decorations and gift-giving. For example, the placing of a fresh evergreen tree (or more popular “Christmas tree”) was first employed by the Christians as a symbol of the life found in the newborn Christ, and the candles adorning it were symbolic of the eternal life he offers as Savior. Gifts first started as simple tokens expressing abundance of the Christ child’s grace, for he is the true gift in the Holy Day! The poinsettia plant was incorporated into the holiday as its red and green leaves serve as an icon for the two natures of Christ, the red being the divine and the green the human.
Despite the malls and shopping plazas covered with richly decorated trees, flashing lights and holiday sales, we can choose to remain free of holiday stress by keeping Christ as the reason for the season! May we all recapture the true sense of anticipation for the Savior’s coming and his gift of eternal life: Hark the Angels of God rejoice for faith, hope and love are born for all mankind!
Father Hinkley is Pastor of Blessed Sacrament and St. Ann Parishes in Waterbury.