Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
November 23, 2009
Advent: Presence, not presents
Ignore the commercialism; Advent is a time of expectant waiting for the Lord's coming
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
Advent isn't about presents; it's about preparing for Christ's presence.
As the launch of the liturgical year, Advent is a time of expectant waiting, preparing for Christmas and a counter-cultural call to our consumerist society.
"When you listen to the evening news or read the newspapers, a lot of things aren't positive. So how do we bring the positive dimension into what is happening in our world?" asked Sister Jeannette Filthaut, a spiritual director and facilitator at Providence Renewal Centre.
The prophet Isaiah suggested bringing comfort to people. A lot of people view Advent as a time for showing generosity for those in need. The liturgical season invites people to give to charity, and demonstrate an increased sensitivity for the homeless and hungry.
Going beyond a simple exchange of gifts that fill our cupboards with material goods that we don't need, Advent can be a time for helping others in Third World countries, said Filthaut.
"As we prepare for Christmas, there are people who feel very down and disheartened and alone, and it's all about reaching out to those people and knowing God is with us.
"Sit with someone who is in pain and be the gift of presence," she said.
A time of serious preparation, Advent is also a time of anticipated joy.
"That's why the Third Sunday, Gaudete Sunday, is a day of joy because it's the Sunday right before we celebrate. It's a rejoicing time. I think that's what Christ wanted us to be is joyful, and that Sunday really promises joy."
Advent always begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas, falling on Nov. 29 this year.
Kevin Carr, executive director at Providence Renewal Centre, said the Advent readings have passages from the prophets, including Isaiah and John the Baptist. Today, the messages of those prophets are still relevant.
"The readings of the prophets are calling us to prepare the way of the Lord, and that means prepare inwardly and in some ways outwardly. It's the idea that we can get our lives into proper perspective," said Carr.
"The prophets were calling the people of Israel, calling the people of their time, to prepare for the coming of the Saviour. Well, in a lot of ways the same things can be applied to our lives today. There's a prophetic element to our lives."
Some Catholic schools have Jesse trees that can be useful for teaching students about the Bible at Christmastime. Akin to stained glass windows telling the story of salvation, the Jesse tree represents the genealogy of Jesus Christ, and tells the story of God's salvation plan from creation and throughout the Old Testament, to the coming of the Messiah.
"The young people in school get bombarded with the preparation for Christmas in a materialistic way. There is absolutely no doubt about that. But there are things they can do together as a community that can help them understand what Advent is really all about," said Carr.
Another important component of Advent for children is the opportunity to learn - through the O Antiphons - the other names for Jesus, including Emmanuel, Key of David and Radiant Dawn.
Sandy Prather, director of the St. Albert-based Star of the North Retreat Centre, said Advent is similar to Lent, in that both are privileged times to focus spiritually on what's important in our lives.
"In a time of excess and rush, and the culture of the Christmas frenzy is emphasizing buying, partying and feasting, Advent invites us to pause, and enter into some silence, some listening, some waiting," said Prather.
One can ask the questions: What are we waiting for? What are the deepest hungers of our hearts?
"When you look at those Advent readings, they talk about the fulfillment of those deepest hungers, the promise that Isaiah talks about on God's holy mountain, the light that's going to come," she said.
Taking time for silence, prayer, gazing at the nighttime sky and using the Advent wreath are her suggestions for celebrating Advent.
An Advent wreath-making workshop is set for Nov. 23 at Star of the North where participants learn the religious symbolism of the wreath. Every candle represents each of the four Sundays of Advent. Lighting the Advent candles is a reminder that even in darkness, there is still the light of hope.
Prather and Father Michael McCaffery are also leading an Advent retreat Dec. 15 at the Star of the North.
"If you don't get Advent right, you don't get Christmas right," said Prather.
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