Vigil of the First Sunday of Advent

Susan Holmes, OSB | Dec 1, 2018

What are your childhood memories of Advent? What do you remember about the time when you eagerly awaited all the joys and surprises of Christmas? I want to suggest that we each start with our own memories and make this Advent a time of joy and surprise, even as we delve more deeply into the meaning of God’s incarnation.

As a child, the arrival of the annual Sear’s Christmas catalog marked the “official” beginning of Advent for me. I marveled at the bright, rich reds of the cover. With childlike fascination, I paged through the toy section. Day after day this book brought me after-school joy. This book heightened my anticipation of the coming feast, and its memory still brings a smile to my face.

What if we could recapture that same joyful anticipation of Christmas this year? As adults, I hunch that it would be a more thoughtful joy. Our anticipation would be enriched by all our past Advents, and perhaps lift our spirits with a deeper realization of God becoming human. May I suggest that we each search out and read the best book, article, poem, movie we can find for our own Advent reflection? For example, let us put aside the Sears’ catalogs of the past and reflect on the scriptures the church puts before us this year. Tomorrow the prophet Jeremiah reminds us that the Lord says: “I will fulfill the promise I made…” Or we may choose to delight and cry in the story of The Fourth Wise Man on TV once again; or study T.S. Elliot’s poem, The Journey of the Magi. Carol Houselander’s slim volume The Reed of God is a woman’s perspective on the season. For those wanting a challenge, Alfred Delp’s Advent of the Heart: Seasonal Sermons and Prison Writings (1941-1944) is a good choice. Of course, you may find other sources. I am just suggesting that you move beyond the catalogs, the internet, and the television ads and spend some serious time reflecting as an adult in a way that with joy and fascination and depth draws you closer to Jesus whom we await.

Another way to capture something of childhood delight as an adult is Christmas lights. Lights were and still are special to me at this time. What would our houses and our Christmas trees be without lights? As a child, I experienced them as delightful blues, reds, greens, oranges, and white. They warmed my heart. As an adult, I have experienced being in the dark, and I didn’t particularly like it. But Christmas lights are there for all to see, for all of us to enjoy! How often we leave our living room drapes open to the street, so our tree shines brightly into the darkness? We drape the exterior of our houses with lights. Everywhere we see shimming lights meant to bring us joy, happiness, and delight. John’s gospel describes Jesus as light. “What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” Perhaps reflecting on the connection between Christmas lights and Jesus as the light of the world will inspire us this year. Maybe we too can become light for one another.

On another level, the new cosmology can possibly lead to a deeper understanding of Jesus/God as light. Please forgive my simplistic expression of what the scientists are really saying. Scientists think that at the beginning –13 to 16 billion years ago – there was an Alpha moment. There was a “Big Bang.” Maybe we can think: in the beginning, energy was God’s self-expression as great light. Biblically, God said: “Let there be light, and there was light.” Jesus is the life and light of the world. Maybe the lights of Christmas can lead us to a deeper understanding of the awe-some-ness of God/Jesus. From the very beginning, both Biblically and scientifically, God’s name and manifestation is light. The Star of Bethlehem is light guiding us to the God-man, Jesus. As you delight in Christmas lights, delight in Jesus who was part of the light of creation, who guides us to him with a star and whose coming into this world as a human baby is the Christmas we will soon celebrate.

In Christmas, we have a great manifestation of God’s love affair with us and all people. Even today God continues to invite us to life and love, forgiveness and redemption in new yet familiar ways. As we listen to the words of Jesus which will be proclaimed on Sunday, let us not become drowsy from the anxieties of daily life, real as they are. Let us stand erect and raise our heads. Let us be vigilant and pray and have the strength to stand before the Son of Man, who is that little child whose birth we will celebrate this Christmas at the end of Advent. Blessings on your Advent.