By: Fiona Cousino
I don’t know about you, but this time of year is hard for me. I begin to curl up and snooze when I would usually be ready for adventure. I say out loud to myself at least once a day, “Wow, it’s so dark”. When I look at the state of the world around me I am struck by the same darkness. The days are short and the nights are long; the darkness is overwhelming at times. Into this season, when the darkness is almost complete, the Church offers us Advent. Advent doesn’t come in with trumpets, it comes as a whisper, as just one candle, as an invitation.
The word Advent means arrival, and the season of Advent is about a word which I think we need to reexamine - anticipation. Whereas the world around us seems to jump straight from Halloween to Christmas- full out, with all the movies, all the lights, all the music, all the buying- Advent is slow and intentional. Instead of instant gratification, Advent is an invitation to anticipation, to allow the spark of light to grow and grow within us, to allow the hope within us to begin to burn until it blazes in the glory of Christmas. God knows us, He knows we need time and invites us to celebrate the feasts in their fullness. And so, we have Advent, which is both a little feast and a little fast. Advent is a time to make room in your life, once again, for God to not be an idea or a nice story, but the most real and present person to you. Every year I am grateful for this season to slow down and allow the light to grow in me.
To understand the anticipation of Advent, let’s set the scene a little bit. In the beginning...God made everything good and had a good plan for mankind. (You know this story right?) Long story short, our first parents, Adam and Eve, disobeyed God, distrusted His goodness, and fell into sin- a sin which shattered that good plan for friendship with God and broke our humanity in ways that we cannot repair. When God comes and finds Adam and Eve in sin He is heartbroken, and He punishes them as a loving Father. In the middle of punishing the tempting Snake, Man, and Woman, God says something incredible, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.” (Gen. 3:15) What does that mean? He’s saying a son of Eve, a human will one day strike at the very head of evil, he will walk on the head of the snake who brought us into sin. In the middle of the Father’s reprimand, He makes a promise that man won’t remain enslaved to evil forever. This is called the protoevangelium, or the first evangelization - the first Good News.
From this time onward mankind began to long for the fulfillment of this promise. The Old Testament is the story of this longing for the freedom God has promised- for fulfillment and reconciliation with God. Throughout the story, God begins to illuminate what His promise will look like: a king will come, a prophet, a priest, someone who will demonstrate God’s love, someone who will be great and small all at once. Think about the thousands of years of longing, of praying, of waiting and waiting for this promise. Jesus says to His followers, “Truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous men longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.” (Matt. 13:17) Advent is a four week participation in that prayer of total longing. You know that feeling when you haven’t seen your friend in a long time and you say, “I miss you. I can’t wait for you to come!”? This is the feeling of Advent. As you live this season, allow yourself to enter into that anticipation, into the holy waiting for the promise of God.
Advent is thoroughly Christian because we know the One who was promised so long ago is Jesus the Christ. The Israelites didn’t know it would be God Himself made man. We wait with our eyes already opened to His wonderful light. We await the celebration of His first coming as a man, and we await His coming again in glory. Advent anticipates, on tiptoes, both the coming of Christ as a baby, and the day when He will come again as King to judge the living and the dead. Advent should call us to be awake and ready for God. We wait, while we draw nearer and nearer to Him, while we clean our homes and our hearts, while we decorate with love and with sparkly things. We wait as we pray, “Lord, come soon. Come into my darkness, into my suffering, into my family. Come Lord, and build your Kingdom even now in my life and in my world. I need the promise. I need a God who would stoop low and love me in my feebleness. I need the light, desperately.” I love Advent because for me it is a reminder of the whole Christian life; I am waiting in joyful hope for the coming of Christ.
Light is coming. I promise. It has already started to spark. I hope and pray that in each of us, the light of Christ would ever increase and the hope of the coming King would make us brilliant with joy. I want to invite you to think about three things with me this Advent:
How can I make room for Jesus in my life?
What are ways that I have cluttered up the home of my heart with sin, stress, selfish pride, anxiety, technology, and noise, and how can I prepare a place for my Lord to come and become incarnate in me?
What do I want to give to Jesus this Christmas? What would I ask of Him?
There’s a tradition in Europe where kids write letters to Baby Jesus instead of Santa. What would I ask of Jesus this Christmas? What graces do I need in my life right now? What are ways I need Him to be more real in my life? Also, what do I want to give to the Lord at His coming this Christmas? What are ways that I can give more of my heart, more of my time, more of my life over to loving God and my neighbor?
How can I foster anticipation this Advent?
Are there some decorations I want to wait to put out or some special treats I want to save for Christmas? Am I praying through a season of holy waiting or do I want instant gratification?