We begin the season of Advent. Advent is preparation for the coming of Christ. Christmas is coming, for many, believers and non-believers alike, our favourite time of the year. I have gone through too many Advents completely missing the point in the preparations because I was only focused on Christmas.
Advent has a twofold character: as a season to prepare for Christmas when Christ’s first coming to us is remembered; as a season when that remembrance directs the mind and heart to await Christ’s Second Coming at the end of time. Advent is thus a period for devout and joyful expectation (Norms 39).
Christmas celebrates Emmanuel, meaning ‘God with us’. Jesus born into the world in the first coming, crucified and died, risen as Christ to accompany us through the journey of life to await the Second Coming. In personal terms, to accompany us through our ups and downs in life, to be there for us when we need him, our star when our skies darkened, to lead us to our salvation.
We light the first candle in the Advent wreath, a Christian tradition, symbolising the gift of Hope.
Hope is the last thing that dies in us. The challenges of life may cause us to lose belief in our Christian faith but never before we lose hope in life. Hope will always remain with us even long after we have abandoned our Christian faith. Challenges in life can sometimes get so heavy, driving us into desperate despair leaving us alone and lonely in a dark space with seemingly nothing left. In that darkness, the small candlelight of hope flickers.
People who have come forward to church seeking baptism often point to an event in life that sparked their conversion. They never knew Christ, but they know Hope. People who have abandoned their faith return to church often out of a crisis in their personal lives. They had lost belief in Christ but Hope never left them. Just listen to the testimonies of returning Catholics. It is always Hope that appears first to lead us to a better place.
For the downtrodden, for the poor, for the marginalised, for these who may not even profess the Christian faith, though they have very little, they will always have hope. For the sick in hospital clinging on to life is clinging on to the hand that Hope stretches out to them. Hope accompanies us throughout the journey of life. It is the last light that goes out.
Hope is the Risen Christ in disguised, our humble God dwelling amongst his people.
And so the world is in joyful anticipation to celebrate Christmas even if only in secular ways. Even non-believers celebrate, their numbers increasing as well due to commercialisation. But Jesus the reason for the season is happy to remain hidden in the celebrations. For Christ faithfully waits to be revealed in their personal lives, often appearing first as the gift of hope.
Christmas brings us this gift of Hope, Christ who dwells in us to accompany us through our journey in life, towards our salvation, our second coming.
(First Sunday of Advent, 2022)