The Seasons of Advent and Christmas

By Fr. Michael J. McKinnon
MARLBOROUGH, December 1, 2012

Advent: “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His Glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats” (Matthew 25:31-32). Advent (which means, “coming”) is a season of solemn preparation for the Coming of Christ and is the beginning of the Church Year. Many people are somewhat mistaken however, in thinking of Advent primarily as a time of preparation for Christmas (a time to buy gifts, to send cards, to reconnect with old friends, to put lights on the tree, etc). However, the Season of Advent is primarily a time of preparation for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ; when the Lord will return in glory to judge the living and the dead. It has become increasingly difficult for the Church to stand in direct opposition to the culture which begins celebrating Christmas the day after Thanksgiving (if not earlier). However, Advent is a sober reminder that the Lord Jesus Christ will indeed come again to judge the world. As the Church, we are called to “be prepared”, calling others to prepare themselves for His glorious return. Advent is rightly understood as a sort of “mini-Lent” (a penitential season), a time whereby persons prepare for the Second Coming of Jesus through a season of additional Scripture reading, prayer and fasting, self-examination, confession and other acts of self-denial and/or special devotion. Commonly, the “Gloria in excelsis” is omitted from the Liturgy in order to emphasize the penitential, rather than the celebratory, nature of the Season. The liturgical color traditionally worn is purple reminding us of our call to “keep watch” for the Second Coming of Christ.

However, Advent is not only a Season of repentance, but is also a Season of expectant joy. As Christians who keep watch for their Lord, we wait with hope and anticipation for His Coming—for He shall return in glory and death shall be no more (see Revelation 21:4). For Christians, there is always a spiritual conflict within the soul regarding Christ’s Second Coming. We approach the Day with both a sense of fear (that is, great reverence and awe) and a sense of great joy like a bride awaiting her groom on her Wedding Day. Holy fear and holy joy fill the Christian soul when contemplating Christ’s return. Christians are NOT called to speculate about the time of Christ’s return. Rather, we are called to keep watch and to be prepared, encouraging others to be prepared as well. “Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” (Matthew 24:44). As St. Cyprian of Carthage wrote in 250 A.D., “Oh what a day that will be when the Lord presents us with the reward of faith and devotion!  What will be that glory, and how great will be the joy of being admitted to the sight of God! To be so honored as to receive the joy of eternal life and salvation in the presence of Christ the Lord, your God. To greet Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the patriarchs, apostles, prophets and martyrs…in the delight of the immortality that will be given! To receive there ‘what eye has not seen nor ear heard, what has not entered into the heart of man”. Are you prepared for His coming? Enter into this holy Season of solemn preparation. Do not be so busy preparing for Christmas that you find yourself unprepared for the Coming of the Lord!

Christmas: “And the angel said to them, “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11). Christmas is the liturgical celebration of the Incarnation; the coming of God Himself into the world in the Person of Christ. It derives its name from “The Mass of Christ” (i.e., Christ-Mass). First and foremost, Christmas is the time when Catholic Christians gather to Celebrate the Holy Eucharist, the Mass of Christ, in thanksgiving for His coming into the world. Before planning family dinners, exchanging presents, or any other plans, Christmas Eve is about worship! Jesus Christ came into the world to deliver us from sin and death. He is our King, our Saviour and our God. Can we allow this holy night to come and go without gathering to celebrate the Holy Eucharist? For just as Christ came into the world over two thousand years ago, so in a special way He comes into our hearts and lives through the Celebration of the Holy Eucharist (in fellowship, Word and Sacrament). There is no greater gift than Christ, there is no greater meal than the Eucharist and there is no family tradition greater than the Church Family gathering to worship God and to offer thanksgiving. This is what Christmas is truly about. It is from our joy of gathering to Celebrate the Holy Eucharist in thanksgiving for the coming of our Saviour that we gather with family, celebrate the Feast Day with a great meal, exchange gifts and remember those less fortunate than ourselves. The latter flows from the former. When making your Christmas Eve plans this year, remember that this is the night known as the “Mass of Christ” and that the whole world is called to bow the knee in thanksgiving for His coming. For He is Emmanuel, “God with us”.

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