Reflections on Advent as a Time of Preparation
By Billy Kangas
Advent is a time of preparation and expectation for the coming of Christ, the time before celebrating the "joy to the world" that God's incarnation becomes. In advance of a celebratory Christmas season that follows Advent, we often take time to reflect on the themes of hope, peace, joy, and love, which gets us ready for a world that Christ has entered. The faithful remember the story of what God has done and look toward where God is going.
G.K. Chesterton wrote, "Hope is the power of being cheerful in circumstances that we know to be desperate." It is not a blissful ignorance or wishful thinking but a subversive cheer that refuses to let circumstance triumph over courage, doubt overcome faith, or adversity conquer compassion. This is not easy; it is not our default setting. When we hit brick walls, the first emotion that naturally arises is generally not hope. Hope requires a strength that comes from focusing on a greater vision than what is wrong. We may not have every problem figured out, but we serve a God who loved this world enough to join us in it. We trust that when Jesus said, "Behold, I am making all things new," he meant it.
Biblical peace is a more than a cessation of wars. It is a reconstituting of reality where mercy and justice reign, power becomes subservient to hospitality, and governance is driven by grace. It confronts rulers with a vision: God's way of life. Advent invites us to see the peace of God as a way of life.
Joy comes upon us unexpectedly. It jumps out at us from behind sunsets, peeks out in the smile of a stranger, and takes hold in a child’s laughter. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a Jesuit biologist and philosopher, once wrote, "Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God." If this is true, every moment of joy is like a little Christmas in our lives. Advent is not only a time when we hope for the coming of Christ in great history-changing events. It is also a time where we hope for little moments of joy, and invite God to use us as instruments of joy for the world.
In the fourth century, Saint Augustine wrote, "What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men." Advent gives us space to step back and love. By taking the focus off ourselves we are able to see the needs of others.
Billy Kangas is the fellow for Catholic Relations at Bread for the World.