This Sunday is the First Sunday of Advent, a season of four Sundays before Christmas Day, and it usually begins on Thanksgiving weekend. Advent is the beginning of a new liturgical year for churches and was created to help us prepare for the coming of Jesus.
The name Advent was adopted from the Latin adventus, which means “coming, arrival,” translating the Greek Parousia. While in the New Testament, the term is used for the second coming of Christ, the use in the Christian liturgical calendar anticipates the “coming of Christ,” and its emphasis is on the Advent season is getting ready for the presence of God among us.
The problem for the modern Church is that we don’t know how to prepare for Advent. For Lent, there is a time of somber remembrance and fasting, or giving up meat, for a season, but for Advent, there is no specific spiritual exercise or ritual attached to it, and all we do is wait for the birth of baby Jesus.
This lack of purpose for Advent has left the Church vulnerable to a spiritual invasion. The postmodern consumerism-oriented world controlled by Amazon is very good at getting us ready for Black Friday. They inundated us with advertisements for weeks, telling us which items would be on sale and how our lives would be hollow and unsatisfying without them. Wishing to avoid the prospect of living an unfulfilled life, we gladly accept the messages on the screens with happy pets and children smiling with all the things we do not need. We easily hand over our credit card numbers to buy something we will be paying for long after we have discarded them.
The Church has great difficulty making Advent spiritual or meaningful, and Advent music is a great example. We have many Christmas hymns, but not many of us can name even one Advent hymn. We try different ways to make the Advent season meaningful with new ways of doing things, but most are superficial at best and often nothing more than trendy. In recent years, I have been surprised by the popularity of blow-up Santa as the dominant Christmas figure. I find it interesting that some nativity scenes have been removed because the figurines were too Eurocentric, but all the Santas I see are still western European.
In modern times the message of Advent, which many just call the Christmas season, is joy, and the spiritual message of Jesus may be a little diluted, but it is not lost. I believe the Church is missing the significance of the modern rituals people are creating. The emphasis seems to be on celebrating friends, recognizing the importance of people in their lives, and showing just how much they are appreciated, the very values of the Christian community.
The Covid lockdown has shown us the importance of human connections, so let us make this Advent an actual spiritual Advent by letting people in our lives know just how much they mean to us.