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15 December 2008

Advent Inspired by Kiki

Kiki recently posted some of her reflections on Advent and Christ which means she beat me to it. I had been meaning to do so since this season marks the one year anniversary into my Catholic journey. I've been so busy that I haven't had a chance because of work and such. I posted a rather long comment on her page and that got me juices flowing. 

Advent is a time of great celebration and rejoicing. For those of the Christian faith, it is a time of hope and renewal. Christ the Savior is being "re"born to prepare a way for us. It is a time for family and joy. Sadly, today's consumer culture has transformed Advent into Retail Madness. Advent has become the Christmas season. Traditionally, the Christmas season actually begins on Christmas Day and ends on the Epiphany (January 6th). This is where the whole idea of "The Twelve Days of Christmas" comes. It happens AFTER Christmas, not before. Because of this great consumer (and, by extension, social) emphasis on the lead-up to Christmas, the real focus of Christmas gets lost and convoluted. 

The thing that I really appreciate about the Catholic church is that we follow the liturgical calendar. Advent in the Church is a time of preparation and great anticipation. The reading and Gospels in the mass discuss directly the coming of Christ and the signs of His future works and trials. We don't read about His life or deeds during this time. We focus on preparing ourselves for God's greatest gift. We don't sing traditional Christmas hymns or carols, and the church has few signals of the winter holiday. A few poinsettias bring color to the altar, but that is it. Next Sunday, the third week of Advent, a few small white-lit Christmas trees and evergreens will appear. At midnight mass on Christmas Eve, we will introduce the caroling and Christmas hymns into the mass. And we will sing those hymns for the next two weeks or so. Because, at that point, the Christmas season has begun. 

Our Christmas season will end in January when we'll have a few short weeks of "ordinary time." Late in February, Ash Wednesday marks that start of Lent. Of course, this is a serious time of reflection, repentance, sacrifice, and penance. This solemn time allows us ample opportunity to reflect on our own lives and examine the debt we owe for the sacrifices made.  The Catholic Church's calendar is set up so that the Easter miracle is never far away. Everything we do is in preparation to honor and revere this holy sacrifice made for us so that we may be forgiven. The year is a near constant cycle of preparation, rejoicing, and reflection, and sacrifice. It ensures that Christ's life and death is always at the forefront of our mass celebration.  Even now, in the throws of the "Christmas season," Christ's sacrifice is the focus of our mass. Each week when I participate in holy communion, I'm reminded that Christ was born to die for my sins. That sacrifice is overwhelming and overpowering. And it's important that we not forget it. No matter what the season. Christmas is joyful and renewing, but it is also the start of the greatest sacrifice ever made. 

While Advent is a temporary season prepping us for Christ's coming, it really is the start of His most holy sacrifice. To only celebrate the wonder and glory of Advent is to lose the real significance of the season. 

But those are just my thoughts. Yours?
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