Archbishop Schnurr on Advent: Preparing Our Hearts to Celebrate
No one likes to wait, especially when we are waiting for something good. However, the better that something is, the more it is worth waiting and preparing for. That is why the Church gives us the season of Advent, a word derived from the Latin word adventus, meaning “coming.” Advent – the beginning of a new Church year – prepares us for the coming of Christ at Christmas and at the end of the world.
Almost everybody gets ready for what is often called “the holiday season” in some way, even those who are not Christian believers. For much of the population, the four weeks before Christmas are a frenzied time of shopping, partying, and perhaps completing some tasks that must be done before the end of the year. Those things all have their place and are not wrong in themselves.
In the Church calendar, however, this period we call Advent is a somewhat solemn, reflective, and even penitential season of preparation for the Roman Catholic believer. In fact, the liturgical color is violet, just as it is for Lent. This is a time of watchful waiting for the Lord, a reminder that we are to always be in a state of readiness to welcome Christ’s Second Coming even as we prepare our hearts to celebrate his first coming at Christmas, the Nativity of the Lord, when the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.
This double purpose of Advent comes through clearly in this month’s Sunday readings. The first of these, from the prophet Isaiah, is a heartfelt cry of confession and contrition for the sin and guilt of the Lord’s people – “all of us have become like unclean people, all of our good deeds are like polluted rags” (Is 64:6). The readings from the Old Testament on the succeeding three weeks of Advent become increasingly Messianic, ending with the Lord’s great promise to King David, through the prophet Nathan: “Your house and your kingdom shall endure forever before me; your throne shall stand firm forever” (2 Sam 7:16). From our perspective many centuries later, we know that promise was fulfilled by the birth of Christ.
The first Gospel reading of Advent this year, from St. Mark, starts with the words “Jesus said to his disciples: Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come” (Mk 13:33). That points toward the Second Coming. In the second and third weeks, St. Mark and St. John both quote the same passage from the Book of Isaiah as they identify St. John the Baptist as the forerunner of Christ. He is, they tell us, Isaiah’s “voice of one crying out in the desert, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths’” (cf Is 4:3). On the fourth and final Sunday of Advent this year, which coincides with Christmas Eve, it is the angel Gabriel who announces the Lord’s coming to the Blessed Virgin (Lk 1:26 – 38).
This Advent, I urge you to prepare the way of the Lord in your own life as you look forward to Christmas. Take some quiet time in your busy life, perhaps before the Blessed Sacrament, to reflect on Christ’s first coming at the Nativity and on his promised return as well. You might also consider adopting the traditional family practices of lighting Advent candles and using an Advent calendar if you have not done so in the past.
As I myself prepare for Christmas, I wish each of you the peace, joy, and fullness of life that only Christ can offer us. And if you have been away from the Church for a while, I invite you to please come home for Christmas. We miss you and we long to welcome you back.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Most Reverend Dennis M. Schnurr, Archbishop of Cincinnati