The Christmas music on the radio has begun. Christmas decorations have been in some stores already for months, and the gift guides have been piling up in our mailboxes and inboxes.
But what comes before that? Advent is a season that should be filled with joyful anticipation of what is about to come. Advent, which encompasses the four Sundays leading up to the celebration of Christmas, also begins a new liturgical year for the Church. This time of preparation directs our hearts and minds to Christ’s second coming at the end of time and also toward the anniversary of the Lord’s birth on Christmas.
This Advent we invite you, our dear readers, to follow in the footsteps of the Nativity of Our Lord. This week’s Living Our Faith shares a brief history of the tradition, which was established in 1223 by St. Francis of Assisi as a devotional experience to better meditate on the mystery of Christ’s incarnation. In this Mystery, God shares in our humanity so that we might come to share in His divinity.
Pope Francis has said that key players in the Nativity story prove that “history is not made by the powerful, but by God together with His little ones, those small and simple people whom we find around Jesus, who is about to be born: Zachariah and Elizabeth, who are old and marked by sterility; Mary, the young virgin engaged to Joseph; the shepherds, who were despised and counted for nothing.”
They had hope and they turned the dark and twisted paths of life around them into “a highway on which to walk toward the glory of the Lord,” the pope said.
We also recommend this Advent reading the second half of the Book of Isaiah, whom Pope Francis has called “the great prophet of Advent, the great messenger of hope.” The prophet invites us to look forward to the coming of the Messiah, of whom he said: “for a child is born to us, a son is given to us; upon his shoulder dominion rests. They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:5).
The Poor Clare Nuns, a contemplative Franciscan community, anticipate each Advent with joyful hope by emulating the characteristics of the main figures and symbols of the Nativity. Mother Mary Leo Hoffman described Advent at their monastery as a penitential time, but still filled with joyful anticipation. “We’re trying to prepare our souls, so we do little extra sacrifices and things,” she said. “It’s a little more quiet time. But it keeps building as we get closer and closer.”
While the secular interpretations of Christmas might add to that joy, our preparation should remain focused on the arrival of the Christ child, who offers us a message of hope and peace and a promise of salvation.