On the first day of Advent, my three-year old was jumping up and down with excitement. She grabbed my hand and led me to the area of our dining room that has been entirely overtaken by Advent decorations — we’re just a teeny bit obsessed with celebrating Advent — where my eyes beheld six long Advent chains dangling from the fireplace mantle, one for each child. Each ring of the chain, when torn off, brought with it a wonderful surprise. The first day, all the children received swimming goggles (Who knows why? I don’t even ask. They all seemed quite pleased.). This isn’t what my daughter was excited about, though.
She shrieked and pointed to a mysterious box on the mantle that was labeled, “Daddy.” Apparently, this year I also will receive prizes. Each day, the mystery box will be filled with a treat. I looked inside at a bite of fudge. It was only six in the morning, but I happily ate it. Daddys are basically overgrown children and we have a similar inability to control our impulses when confronted by hot chocolate, Christmas cookies and candy. My daughter looked on approvingly. She, too, had immediately eaten her candy.
Having become Catholic more than a decade ago and subsequently throwing ourselves into the fullest possible celebration of Advent, our family has discovered the beauty of the season. Advent directs our gaze far into the future toward the second coming of Christ. By doing so, it redirects us to the past and the first coming. The two Advents cannot be disconnected. This is the glory and power of the season, full of darkness and apocalyptic rumblings, but also expectation and hope. If I’m being honest, I probably like it even more than the Christmas season.
It’s beautiful how Catholics maintain a living connection with the past; Christmas is a real-time event. Christ is daily birthed in our hearts and on our altars. His nativity isn’t buried in history, but bursts upon us like a sky full of angels shouting “Gloria.” I see the child-like hope and excitement in my children as they wait, once again, for the Christmas miracle to happen. It’s ever new, ever wondrous.
For a while as a young adult, I confess I’d become jaded with Christmas pageantry. That is, until I had children. Suddenly, I was back in the thick of it. Now I see everything through their eyes and it’s become clear that Advent, celebrated properly, is a second childhood. Each year, we return to remember our roots as children of God. Every year, if we’re open to it, God births new grace and wonder in our hearts. This is why I think of Advent as a second childhood.
Celebrating Advent with my children, I discover within myself a great and tireless hope for the future. I cannot wait to continue down the path of life with these people I love, cannot wait for Mass on Christmas, or discover what’s in my Advent mystery box tomorrow morning.
Father Rennier is pastor of Epiphany of Our Lord Parish in St. Louis. A former Anglican priest, he was ordained in 2016 under a pastoral provision for the reception of Anglicans and Episcopalians into full communion with the Catholic Church. He and his wife, Amber, have six children.