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Advent 101 and the Art of Slowing Down


”Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.” ~ Lao Tzu

In his Angelus address given on December 2nd, 2001, then-Pope now-Saint John Paul II greeted the audience in attendance with the following words:

“Dearest brothers and sisters: With today’s first Sunday of Advent, a new liturgical year begins. The Church takes up her journey again, and invites us to reflect more intensely on the mystery of Christ, a mystery that is always new and that time cannot exhaust. Christ is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. Thanks to him, the history of humanity proceeds as a pilgrimage towards the fulfillment of the Kingdom which he inaugurated with his Incarnation and victory over sin and death.”

Perhaps appropriate in light of today’s topic, I’m finally getting around to incorporating this quote into my 1st Saturday Advent Reflection, six days tardy for those keeping score. Today by the way is also the 1st Saturday of the month and the Memorial of the man affectionately known as “the last of the Greek Fathers,” Saint John Damascene Life moves quickly, liturgically and otherwise, so I urge you to use this precious season of Advent well.

The end of the first week of Advent is in fact a good time to hit the proverbial pause button and reflect upon the early stages of your pilgrimage towards the fulfillment of the Kingdom, to borrow once again the words of Saint John Paul II. The question for some may be more elementary. What is the Advent Season all about? What is it that we are to strive for?

For answers to these questions, I turn to the Roman Missal, that rather large book our priests use to celebrate the Mass. It describes the liturgical season of Advent in the following way. It states that “Advent has a twofold character. For it is a time of preparation for the solemnity of Christmas in which the first coming of the Son of God to humanity is remembered. . . Likewise it is a time when by remembrance of this, our minds and hearts are lead to look forward to Christ’s second coming at the end of time. For these two reasons Advent is a period of devout and expectant delight.”

A period of devout and expectant delight. We are called to be delightful during the Advent Season. Perhaps that can be our first collective goal, particularly when dealing with the perpetual “Grinches” in our lives, or while languishing in an excruciatingly long line at the department store, or in dealing with the rude barista who serves up a subpar gingerbread latte, or navigating whatever relatively insignificant Christmas Season calamity we are asked to endure. As noted philanthropist Lailah Gifty Akita puts it, “Happiness is a delightful heart.” A Christian is called to exude joy and happiness, to be, quite simply, delightful.

With regard to the liturgical essence of Advent, the coming of the Creator’s Son to earth is an event of such immensity that God prepares for it over centuries. Not days, or weeks, or even a number of years. God in His wisdom and in accordance with His divine will makes everything converge on Christ. He announces his Son through the mouths of the prophets who succeed one another in Israel.

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One of these prophets is Isaiah, who we hear from by way of the 1st Reading today and most of the first 20 or so days of Advent. John the Baptist is the Lord’s immediate precursor, the preeminent forerunner sent to prepare his way. The prophet of the most high, John the Baptist surpasses all the prophets, of whom he is the last. He inaugurates the Gospel from his mother Elizabeth’s womb while he welcomes the coming of Christ and rejoices in being a friend of the bridegroom (Luke 1:41-44). He is the one who proclaims the Lamb of God, this Jesus who “takes away the sins of the world.” (John 1:29).

In celebrating the Liturgical Season of Advent, the church makes present this ancient expectancy of the Messiah, an arrival which took centuries. Given the profundity of all of this, it is incumbent upon us to slow down and encounter this Jesus who has entered the world and who will enter the world. At his second coming, He will usher in justice by way of the New Heaven and the New Earth. In today’s 1st Reading from Isaiah (30:19-21, 23-26), we get a glimpse of what this new day and age to come will look like. The teacher who at present is hidden will show himself, idol worship will be cast aside, and the natural world will be restored. There will be no more weeping.

In order to experience the fullness and richness of the Christmas Season and its promise of redemption, renewal, and salvation, preparation is vital. If need be, assemble a “Stop Doing List” which rivals if not surpasses your “To-do List.” As Saint John Paul II once said “The Word made flesh, which took up His dwelling in Mary’s womb, comes knocking at the door of every person’s heart with particular intensity at the coming of Christmas.”

Answer His call…with urgency and delight.

“Blessed are all who wait for the Lord.” ~ Psalm 147

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