By Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond, Clarion Herald Commentary
We are entering the season of Advent. Did you have any Advent traditions in your own family growing up?
Yes, we always had an Advent wreath in our home. I would encourage families to consider incorporating the Advent wreath into a time of prayer before supper or before bed. It only takes about five minutes, but it’s a time when a family can gather and share their faith, talk and pray. The four Advent candles reinforce the contrast between darkness and light. Christ is referred to in Scripture as the “Light of the World” in stark contrast to the darkness of sin. Each week, as Christ’s advent (coming) approaches more closely, we light another candle to dispel the darkness. The wreath forms a circle, which reminds us that God’s love for us does not have a beginning or an end. Each of the four candles is lit, one at a time, on a different Sunday of Advent. You might say that each candle represents 1,000 years – because humanity waited about 4,000 years for the Savior to be born. The first two candles are purple, representing the liturgical colors. The Third Sunday of Advent is called Gaudete (Rejoice) Sunday, and we light a rose candle as a symbol for joy – that the Savior is almost here. The final purple candle is lit on the Fourth Sunday of Advent to signify our final week of prayer and penance as we await Christ’s birth.
Can you explain what Advent is?
People often say it’s a time to prepare for Christmas, and that’s correct, but that is only one of the three purposes of Advent. Advent really is an opportunity to look back and to prepare to celebrate the day when Christ was born and came among us; it’s also an opportunity to look forward to the future when he will come again in glory and to be prepared that we can stand before him when he comes before us at the end of our lives; and it also involves the present, when we open our eyes and we ask for the eyes of faith to see Jesus revealing himself to us in subtle and not-so-subtle ways every day. All day, the Lord Jesus is with us, walking with us, caring for us, and during Advent we can become more attentive to that and particularly see him in the events of the day. If we celebrate Advent as past, present and future, it will help us to do two things: It will help us to celebrate Christmas in a more joyful way, and it will also help us not to have to worry about going before the Lord at the end of our lives, because we will have done that on a daily basis, opening our eyes and hearts to the presence of the Lord.
The Advent readings change depending on the church cycle of readings. Do the readings have any thread that ties them together?
The readings certainly talk about the Israelite community awaiting the Messiah, and the Gospels for at least two weeks focus on John the Baptist preparing the way of the Lord and helping people to be prepared for his coming among them. The Fourth Sunday of Advent – which this year falls on Dec. 22 – offers us Matthew’s account of the angel appearing to Joseph and telling him not to be afraid to take Mary into his home because it is through the Holy Spirit that the child has been conceived. He was told to name the child Jesus because he will save people from their sins. Joseph awoke from his dream and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him. Mary, of course, accepts the angel Gabriel’s message that she will “bear the Son of the Most High.” She gives her total trust to God the Father, her “fiat.”
Quite a contrast to what is going on in the world today with all the signs of rampant materialism.
There has been a growing trend in terms of materialism and all the “stuff” that goes on with the season. I was thinking about all the secularism the other day. There’s Black Friday and Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday. That’s often where our attention is turned. But when I see all of that, I think of the slogan, “Keep Christ in Christmas.” Advent is our time to literally do that. We have an incredible billboard campaign every year from the Christ in Christmas Committee, which this year is putting up more than 70 “Keep Christ in Christmas” billboards around the archdiocese. That’s a wonderful reminder. Maybe we can put that little sticker somewhere around our house or on our car. Those secular celebrations are fine, but without the spiritual, it doesn’t make any sense. The whole idea of gift-giving on Christmas began because it is on Christmas that we remember the greatest gift that God has given to us – his Son. So, we exchange gifts with two meanings: When we give a gift, we remember that the greatest gift ever given was Christ himself, and we share a gift with others out of charity. Gift-giving also symbolizes what the three Magi did for Christ, coming to him bearing their gifts. So, we bear gifts to those whom we care about.
Questions for Archbishop Aymond may be sent to email@example.com.