Advent is an invitation to prepare our hearts for the coming of the Messiah, the Christ child. But it also is a reminder of perhaps something else we should be anticipating — Jesus’ Second Coming at the end of time.
There’s a direct connection between Advent and Lent, said Steve Givens, a widely published author on topics of spirituality and faith, and a member of Incarnate Word Parish in Chesterfield.
“We get to Advent and hear these readings and expect something happy and joyful, but right away we’re taken to the end times,” said Givens, who with a group recently presented an Advent retreat on the Journey to Bethlehem at Marianist Retreat and Conference Center. “The Church reminds us that what’s generally a joyous time, there’s also a direct line between Advent and what happens during Lent, Holy Week and Easter. Culturally we tend to separate those things, but there’s always this tie to the other parts of Jesus’ life and the Second Coming.”
Givens recently published “Journey to Bethlehem,” a booklet featuring 10 “stations” or encounters of the Holy Family leading to the birth of Jesus. The story begins with the archangel Gabriel’s announcement to Mary that she was to become mother of the son of God, and ends with the birth of the Word made Flesh. Givens presented the stations at an Advent retreat last year, and they were well received.
“People enjoyed it and found it a prayerful experience,” he said. In writing the reflections for each station, he said, “I ask myself, what does it mean to me? I wanted these devotions to be relatable to ordinary people who read this and know the stories — but what does it means when the angel visits Joseph? It’s good for us to know that Joseph was anxious as he learned this incredible story. It allows the readers to see (the stories) in the circumstances of their lives.”
The theme of family is prominent in Advent, as we look to the Holy Family as a model of what is possible in our own lives, Givens said. “When we look at the Blessed Mother and Joseph, we see not only these people of incredible faith who were willing to accept this and live with it, but we see a tremendous model of what it means to be a parent and a person of faith,” he said. “What does it mean to say ‘yes’ to something that is from God but we don’t fully understand?”
The Holy Family is a model of wonder and relying on God. There’s a realization that we are not alone. “All things are possible through God who strengthens us,” Givens said. “We’re not going to get there on our own. The amount of space we give to God is important and helps us to grow.”