Friday, November 30, 2007

Advent: Forward and Backward

On Thursday, November 1st, I was driving home from my office in Conyers. Driving leisurely through Old Towne, just as I always do, I realized that something was different from what it was early that morning when I had come to work. The lamp posts had been decorated with green garland and red bows. There were little decorative lights on the trees and on City Hall. Christmas 2007 had begun.

Each year, in thousands of cities big and small, the same ritual plays itself out as the Holiday Season begins. Even though our society makes ever so bold attempts to trivialize and secularize our winter holiday season, the truth is that at this time it is natural to look back to the sacrifices and hardships endured by the pilgrims, to the sacrifice and powerful witness of the Maccabes, to the ultimate sacrifice of God becoming Man in the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ. We consider these events and recall our own family members, living and dead, and we consider their witness, their sacrifices, both small and great, for their families, for us who have followed them. Yes, despite our society’s best efforts, each year we almost instinctively look back and give thanks for those who have defined us in our families, in our nation, and in our Christian faith.

During this time of reflection, the Church focuses our attention, not on the past, but on a totally new year, as the liturgical year 2008 begins with the First Sunday of Advent. Interestingly, the church year begins not with a glance backward at the manger in Bethlehem, but with a look forward to the Second Coming of Christ in all of its power. The first three weeks of Advent remind the Christian that Christ will come in majesty and power at the end of time to restore all creation into one in Him. This is why we wear violet during this season, the color of kings and the color of penance. We wear violet because we are only too aware of our own unworthiness to stand before the King of all creation and give an account of our lives. We understand only too well that of our own merit we are not worthy for the Lord to come under our roofs. We are all too convinced of our own need for redemption, for a Savior who can save us from our own depravity.

This leads us to the second focus of the Advent Season: The coming of Christ as Man, the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ. On about the fourth Sunday of Advent, the church changes the focus from what will come, to the reality of what has already happened in a small out of the way town 2000 years ago. Society wants to reduce the birth of Christ to an event that is marked by love, warmth, and an outpouring of an insipid charity, sort of a prolonged “Dr. Phil” moment of warmth and fuzziness. Others in the world want to see Christmas simply in terms of the economic benefit that derives from the massive sales of toys, jewelry, and foods.

No matter how much the world tries to hide it, the fact of the matter is this: The Nativity of our Lord stands as a witness to God’s enduring love for all of mankind. The Nativity, the very enfleshment of God, stands as a witness to the Devil and his legions that God loves His creation and will sacrifice everything, even His only Son for those whom He has made. He will even become one with them, taking on human flesh, and suffering the most humiliating death in order to free man from his sin. That is what we come to adore. This sacrificial love of God, this enduring love of God, is the true point of Advent and Christmas and is the reason that Christians remember the Incarnation and look forward with trembling and anticipation to Christ’s return.

So this Advent 2008 looks forward and backward, as it does every year. As we proceed to Christmas, let’s remember and give thanks for the love of all who have made sacrifices so that we can worship the God of steadfast love. Let’s remember and give thanks to God for the gift of His Son and let us look forward to his glorious return.

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