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Advent as joyful remembrance

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If you walked into a retail store even as early as Nov. 1, you may well have thought that Christmas had already begun! Yet in our Catholic tradition, we take time before Christmas to prepare our hearts and minds, so that we may celebrate it more fully and fruitfully. During the season of Advent, we anticipate the coming of Christ, and this has significance. For example, at the beginning of Advent we express hopeful expectation for Christ’s coming again in glory, and in the latter half of Advent we prepare with greater deliberation for the Nativity of Our Lord. Since this Advent marks the beginning of our first year of preparation for the diocesan Golden Jubilee, which is themed around remembrance, we should focuson remembering as one dimension of our Advent preparation.

Our anticipation of the coming of Christ is marked by joyful remembrance. The season of Advent invites us to remember God’s promise to send a Savior and his faithfulness to that promise. God’s promise reaches back generations and is remembered even by the people in Jesus’ life. Upon John the Baptist’s birth, John’s father, Zechariah, blessed the God of Israel by remembering how God “promised to show mercy to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant” (Lk 1:68-72). Simeon, upon recognizing the infant Jesus, rejoiced: “You have fulfilled your promise. My own eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all peoples” (Lk 2:29-31). By coming into this world, Christ poured out the grace of God upon it.

We remember with joy God’s promise and fidelity precisely because they emanated from his abundant love. God’s people have long suffered because of sin. Even so, God has not left his people to dwell in darkness but has poured out his great mercy. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light,” Isaiah prophesied; “You have brought them abundant joy and great rejoicing” (Is 9:1-2). We joyfully remember Christ’s coming because the grace given is poured out in abundance and with great mercy for our sinfulness. With that abundance, we are given the inspiration and faith to be evangelists. Pope Francis wrote, “The joy of evangelizing always arises from grateful remembrance” of Jesus present in the Eucharist (“Evangelii Gaudium”).

This Advent, therefore, we anticipate the feast of our Savior’s birth by joyfully remembering God’s faithfulness to his promise, for he sent his Son to dwell among us and save us. The traditional devotions and activities of Advent are guideposts to remind us of this reality. The evergreen boughs and lighted candles of our Advent wreaths are visible signs of the everlasting life brought by Christ. Our Nativity scenes remind us that our great God humbled himself for us, not because of our deeds but because of his mercy.

If we allow these devotions truly to challenge us, they will also call us to help those in greatest need. We are to shine the light of Christ for those without warm clothes or homes, those with strained or broken families, those who have lost loved ones recently, and many others. As Pope Francis wrote, “the Nativity scene has invited us to ‘feel’ and ‘touch’ the poverty that God’s Son took upon Himself in the Incarnation. It asks us to meet Him and serve Him by showing mercy to those of our brothers and sisters in greatest need.” We can show such mercy because mercy has been shown to us first.

Thankfully, we never prepare for Christmas as if our Savior has not yet been born, for he has been and is present among us today, above all in the Sacrifice of the Mass and in the Eucharist. The Advent season invites us to see with the eyes of faith that in the consecrated bread and wine, we truly and really receive the life-giving Word of God united with his body, blood, soul and divinity. In this way, Advent invites us to reflect more deeply on how every Mass is a joyful remembrance and lived experience of salvation come to earth. Then, when we do finally gather to celebrate the Eucharist on Christmas Day, we can pray in spirit and truth, “Alleluia, alleluia. A holy day has dawned upon us. Come, you nations, and adore the Lord!” (Is 61:1).

Recommended resources for observing Advent in the home

Blessing of an Advent wreath: usccb.org/prayers/blessing-advent-wreath.

The “O Antiphons” of Advent: usccb.org/prayers/o-antiphons-advent.

Blessing of a Christmas tree: usccb.org/prayers/blessing-christmas-tree.

Blessing of a Nativity scene: usccb.org/prayers/blessing-christmas-manger-or-nativity-scene.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021