Advent is a season of contradictions. Spiritually, it beckons us to enter into an interior solitude, to contemplate and be absorbed into the many-layered mystery of the coming of the Lord. The liturgical texts of the season are steeped in longing and in poetry: Come Emmanuel, Wisdom from on High, Sun of Justice, Radiant Dawn, Cornerstone who makes of all our diversity one Body. We remember that the Advent we await is three-fold. It is at once the awesome culmination of time and history, the comforting humanity of the birth at Bethlehem, and the intimate experience of God’s presence in our daily lives, even in the midst of our broken world. Surely the season evokes enough thought to keep us fully focused through its four weeks.
In reality, of course, all this deep meaning is likely to be buried under the outward demands of the season. Fairs, shopping, decorating, lights, wrapping, parties can turn Advent into the hectic rather than the contemplative season. Is it possible to reconcile the two faces of Advent? I think it is. Doing so will probably require a conscious effort to simplify, or perhaps even omit, some of the listed activities. It will certainly demand that we carve out some time for reflection and prayer. The spirit in which we engage in the pre-Christmas preparations and festivities matters. Is that gift or card or gathering an opportunity to show love, respect, or compassion? Or is it just a social obligation? Or worse, a contradiction to the profound significance of Advent?
All of this is easy to say. Life has a way of turning out differently than we envisioned it. Let us do our best and trust that whatever happens Jesus is always Emmanuel, God with us in joy and sorrow, in success and failure.
Sr. Mary O’Brien, C.P.