The Advent season arrives as our annual wake-up call. Throughout these weeks, 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. In Sunday’s gospel (Luke 3: 10-18), the evangelist tells us that this is precisely what John the Baptist did – resulting in a “feeling of expectancy had grown among the people…” And the people asked him, “What must we do?”
Advent also strives to evoke among us that same expectancy. And in doing so, Advent also calls us to conversion – so that the Lord when he comes finds us “watchful”. That is, ready to receive him. 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. This is what we must do as we await the Lord’s coming among us.
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?
Along with our pre-holiday shopping and partying, we should all make time to go to confession if only to remind ourselves 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). By taking advantage of these opportunities for the Sacrament of Penance, we can, in the words of John the Baptist, “prepare the Way of the Lord”. Christmas means that Jesus still offers us gentle miracles of healing, of reconciliation, of interior peace and consolation, if only we approach him with trusting faith.
Such trusting faith is perfectly modeled in the sinless Virgin Mary whose “yes” to God’s will allowed the Word to take flesh in her womb. She became the true “dwelling place” of the Lord, a true “temple” in the world and a “door” through which the Lord entered upon the earth. Advent reminds us that Christ wants to come to us – and, through us, he wants to come and live in our world. Between his first coming as man, when he was born of the Virgin Mary and his final coming in glory at the end of time, he continues to come among us and knocks at the door of our hearts asking us: are you willing to give me your flesh, your time, your life? A good confession can bring Christ to birth once again in our lives – a good confession undoes the “no’s” of our sins and reaffirms the “yes” of our baptism. It allows us to cry out in hope: Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!