Advent 2004

Advent: a sober call to repentance and conversion

We are at the mid-point of our preparations for the feast of God’s coming among us as man. The Advent season arrives in our liturgical calendar as our annual wake-up call.

And so hearing the Scriptures tell us to “awake and be vigilant”, we remember God coming among us in time – when the Word became flesh and was born of the Virgin Mary; we await in hope to receive him at the end of time – when Christ will return in glory to judge us; and we ready our hearts to welcome him in Word and Sacrament – for he still lives in our midst.

While the secular society is already celebrating its “winter holidays”, the liturgy of Advent is sober – calling us to repentance and conversion. Indeed, the entire purpose of Advent is to reawaken our thirst for God. Because of this “penitential” aspect of our Christmas preparations, we should all make a serious attempt during this particular time of grace to approach the confessional. Without acknowledging that we are not as self-sufficient, as autonomous as we sometimes pretend; without recognizing the false turns we have made, the sinful choices that turn us away from the destiny to which he calls us, God will be not only “missing” from our lives; he will not even be “missed”. How can we welcome the one who comes to save us, if we don’t acknowledge our need to be saved?

So I urge you to along with your pre-holiday shopping and partying, to make time to go to confession if only to remind yourself that Jesus is, after all, the reason for the season. Most of our parishes have scheduled extra time for confessions; many have communal reconciliation services (with individual confession and absolution). When the pregnant Mary with her most chaste spouse, Joseph, arrived in Bethlehem, they were turned away from the inn for there was no room. Making a good confession this advent is one way to make sure that Christ can find room with you this Christmas.

As we prepare for Christmas the light of Christ, sun of justice, must shine in our lives – and dispel the darkness of sin: as the saying goes, “Even to make the darkness visible, some light is needed”. Therefore, we should not be afraid of the light, even as it makes us aware of the shadows that still lurk in our hearts. For the good news of Christmas is precisely that the darkness cannot overcome the light. In Jesus’ birth, God and sinner are reconciled. Reconciliation, which is at the heart of the Christmas message, brings us true peace – peace with God, peace with our neighbor and peace with ourselves.

The sacrament of mercy which is Penance can only lighten our hearts and brighten our path as we make our journey to Bethlehem to adore the Christ Child who is the Prince of Peace. Why do we hesitate? Why do we vacillate? Rather, let us imitate the humility of the poor shepherds who hasten to the stable. There is, after all, headroom in the cave of Bethlehem for everybody who knows how to stoop.