It is early December, which means we have entered a special and festive and joyful season. We are once again in the season of … Advent.
Advent?! Who pays any attention to Advent anymore? Our entire American culture has been going bonkers for the Christmas season since about 2 p.m. on Thanksgiving afternoon. (This doesn’t include the retail industry, of course, which started focusing on Christmas the minute the Back-to-School sales ended on Labor Day weekend.)
Well, if we’re Catholic, we should pay attention to Advent. Advent is an entire season of its own. It’s the season before the season. And just like Christmas, Jesus is the reason for the season. (Actually, Jesus is the reason for ALL seasons.)
The word Advent means “coming.” We await the coming of the Lord, both His first coming, which we celebrate on Christmas Day, and His future Second Coming, which is the theme of the Gospel readings at Sunday Masses during Advent.
If you’re like me, when you attend Sunday Mass during December, you expect the gospel reading to touch on those famous biblical Christmas themes: such as Jesus’ birth in the stable, Santa Claus and Rudolph, the Red Ryder BB gun, Ebenezer Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Past, etc. (Hmm, maybe my cultural Christmas themes have been getting mixed up with the real biblical Christmas themes. Might be time for me to crack open a Bible again.)
Anyway, our culture has it all wrong. Nowadays, the Christmas season begins in earnest during halftime of the Detroit Lions football game on Thanksgiving afternoon. Then it continues at a feverish, frantic, and over-indulgent pace right up until the morning of December 25th. And in many people’s minds Christmas is over as soon as the last gift is opened—which in some households occurs at about 5:45 a.m. (The season of “How am I going to pay these bills?” begins in mid-January when the credit card statements arrive in the mail. This is followed in early February by the season of “Did I really spend twelve-hundred bucks on a treadmill for a Christmas gift that’s been used exactly twice and now has served as an expensive coat rack since December 28th?”)
However, according to the Church calendar, the season of Christmas BEGINS with the Christmas Eve vigil Mass, and then the Twelve Days of Christmas continue until the Feast of Epiphany on or about January 6th. The four-week period leading up to Christmas Day is the season of Advent.
It might be a good idea if we embrace the concept of Advent once again. Let’s be honest: even those of us who love Christmas often find the month of December to be very frantic and frustrating, expensive and exhausting. Wouldn’t it be nice to lead up to December 25th with a sense of calm and serenity, rather than the usual throbbing headache, frazzled nerves, and volcanic heartburn?
Here are some good things about the season of Advent: Number one, candles. An Advent wreath with candles is such a quaint and cozy change of pace compared to those gaudy, blinking-light mechanical reindeer. Also, Advent calendars are pretty cool (especially the ones with chocolate).
Next, there is the music of Advent. OK, you’re right, there aren’t a lot of Advent hymns. But “O Come Devine Messiah” and “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” are so lovely, and much nicer than hearing for the zillionth time “Grandma got run over by a reindeer.”
Finally, during Advent we can invoke the Christmas Procrastination Rule, which states: If you observe the season of Advent during December, you have a legitimate excuse for putting off much of the typical holiday season stressful foolishness.
So, enjoy the true season. Ho, ho, ho, and Merry Advent.