A few weeks ago, just before Halloween, I was in the car looking for something to listen to on the radio. As I scrolled through the channels, I was very surprised when I heard Christmas music. I thought at first maybe it was an advertisement using the song, but it became clear that this was what the station would be playing between now and midnight on December 25. In some sense, perhaps, I should not have been surprised since earlier and earlier in department stores and malls we see Christmas decorations and sales. It is always a little bizarre right after Labor Day to walk into a store and see artificial Christmas trees on sale. It also seems that once Halloween is over, the attention of the culture turns immediately to Christmas with Thanksgiving as a mere afterthought. Unfortunately, this affects the Church’s calendar as well since we seem to have completely forgotten the season of Advent.
The First Sunday of Advent marks the beginning of a new Church year. This is more than just a mere change of the liturgical calendar. The Church uses a three-year cycle of readings focusing on the Gospel of Matthew in Year A, Mark in Year B and Luke in Year C. We hear a lot from the Gospel of John during Lent and Easter. So a new Church year affords us the opportunity to encounter a different perspective on the life and ministry of Jesus depending on which Gospel we are listening to. Sadly, for many Catholics, the season of Advent and all of the beautiful elements of it are lost, consumed by the pre-Christmas rush and the frenetic pace of shopping and preparing for guests and parties.
None of this is wrong by itself, but if we completely lose sight of the season of Advent we are not preparing to once again receive the graces that come when our minds turn to the Child in Bethlehem Christmas Day. The Church in her wisdom prepares the faithful for the two great seasons of Easter and Christmas by giving us a few weeks to get ready for the coming festivities in Lent and Advent, respectively. When we lose sight of this, we are not taking advantage of what the Church offers to the faithful.
So how can we respond in a more open manner to the graces of Advent? There are, I am sure, a number of ways that this can be done, but let me offer one example from my own family. When I was a child, we would have an Advent wreath in our home and each night we would light the candles appropriate for that week, read a brief reflection from Scripture and pray a decade of the Rosary. All of this would take maybe 15 minutes, but it was a way that I was reminded of the importance of the season. It was my parents taking seriously their role as the head and heart of the domestic Church, which the Second Vatican Council encourages the home to be. Even though they have been empty nesters now for many years, I know my parents still light the wreath every night during Advent and read a reflection to prepare themselves for the coming Christmas season.
From the perspective of vocations, times of prayer like this in the home inspire a young person to see the beauty of the Church and the liturgical year. Every study shows that when the faith is important to the parents, it usually will take root in the hearts of the children as well. As we continue through our Advent journey this year, let’s try to do something a little different so we can sing “O Come O Come Emmanuel” with hearts filled with expectation as we welcome the Lord once more into our homes and hearts this Christmas.