Advent holds a very special place in my heart. In the Advent liturgy we are able to experience with all our senses the haunting beauty of this time of ardent longing and waiting. The smells of pine wreaths and burning wax, the plaintive melodies of Advent hymns, the promise-filled prophecies and Old Testament readings, the great Advent figures – they all urge us to focus on what God has done for us in Christ Jesus. In four short weeks we learn to wait, to hope, to be quiet, to prepare. How appropriate that the Church would have us enter into Advent while the world steps up its already hectic tempo, adding to the stress of our lives.
For me, Advent is a time to “remember.” The first Sunday of Advent is the Church’s New Year and she begins by having us “remember” what the world was like before Christ, without Christ. In a world that often forgets Christ this doesn’t take much imagination. I have only to think of the times I myself have lost focus for that aching longing for Him to resurface. I imagine Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth, Zechariah… What was their prayer like, once they knew the Messiah was coming? What kind of personal, internal preparations did Mary make to receive Him? How will I prepare myself to receive this Savior who makes Himself small and weak to rescue me from pride and the need to control my world?
The liturgy is full of meaningful and ancient symbolism and I experience a thrill as we light the first Advent candle at the beginning of morning prayer in our convent chapel. The time of preparation has begun! Later that evening, in the quiet of my room, I light a candle on my own crafted Advent wreath and savor the words of the next day’s reading: “Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord” (Is 2:5). I think of the words of our Founder, Blessed James Alberione: “God does not send all the light at once; only enough to see the next step.” So true! And usually the light comes when it’s time to make that step, not before. Thus I am reminded to wait and to trust. The entrance antiphon proclaims: “Behold, our Savior will come; you need no longer fear” (Is 35:4).
It’s dark outside; my window closed to the sounds of the city. “Be still and know that I am God” (Ps 46). Quiet – another important invitation of Advent. I lean back and relax, letting the invisible but palpable presence of the Spirit enfold me. Come, Spirit of God! Open my heart so that Christ may be born there. Let it be a dwelling pleasing to Him. I imagine what kind of preparations the Virgin Mary would make and ask myself, what is Jesus inviting me to? How can I prepare for His coming? The Spirit gives light. I choose strategies that will help me grow in openness to others and pray for the grace to recognize Christ in everyone I come in contact with, even when his reflection may be dimmed.
The Advent Pilgrimage is underway. The Church through her liturgy gives direction. Mary is my companion. The Spirit lights the path. I thank God the Father for this beautiful season and look forward to the remaining weeks that will lead me closer to Christ and his Incarnation in me. I thank him for those who are on pilgrimage with me and pray for those who have become disillusioned or who are lost.
The Advent Wreath, the Advent calendar, Advent hymns, the O-Antiphons, Advent storytelling (a great German and Slavic tradition) – I love them all! They have become part of the fabric of my Advent.
I would love to hear some of your favorite Advent traditions and what Advent means to you, or if you have some prayer intention you would like to share.
May your Advent be blessed!
Sr. M. Leonora Wilson, fsp