Advent – A New Liturgical Year Begins

Did it ever occur to you, that we human beings are never satisfied with what we have? We always seem to desire, hope, and search for something more, something better, something greater. We want not only more and better material things, but we also desire more and better knowledge, understanding, wisdom, and, perhaps, most of all, more acceptance, meaning, and love in our lives. We constantly reach out to the ‘beyond’, the unknown, and the ultimate. 

This constant openness and reaching out to the ‘beyond’ and the unknown is an ongoing display and witness to a fundamental faith and trust in that ‘beyond’ and ‘unknown’. Although we lack any tangible or logical certainty and proof, we are prepared to sacrifice, in some cases, almost anything, to discover, understand, and become familiar with the ‘beyond’. In the Christian experience, St. Augustine of Hippo is said to have put this succinctly in this way: “Our heart is restless, O God, until it rests in you.”

It is this genuinely and fundamentally human attitude or posture of desiring the ‘more’ that is at the heart of the season of Advent. This intrinsically human sentiment has been expressed very strongly in the Jewish scriptures. The Jewish people, in their lives as a group or community, were not satisfied with their situation marked by trials, tribulations, and sufferings. They reached out, waited, and searched for the ‘Ultimate Beyond’, whom they refused to name, to break into their lives, and make present to them the ultimate meaning, wisdom, and love that would transform their world, level mountains and raise valleys, lift up the poor, and exalt the oppressed. Their dream and expectation was that God’s love would govern everyone’s heart and mind. They waited and searched for the arrival (advent) of the Messiah, who would proclaim this ‘good news’.

Today, we humans are still struggling, searching, waiting for the ‘breaking in’ or arrival of the ultimate, (God’s knowledge, wisdom, meaning, and love in our midst). We wait and search for the ‘good news’ that will somehow end the flood of bad news showered on us 24/7, that attests to the abundance of distrust, greed, selfishness, and hate in our lives. Think of how many people, communities, nations, and races seem to turn on one another, of how the division between the poor and the rich is fast increasing, and of how human beings abuse one another and their environment.

The essence of the Christian experience is the recognition that the ‘good news’ desired by all, has actually already arrived in our midst, in the person of Jesus Christ more than two thousand years ago. His life, death, and resurrection introduced a form of life into the collective life of humanity that, when lived, discovers, grasps, and becomes familiar with the ‘Ultimate Beyond’, with the ultimate knowledge, understanding, and meaning of all there is, with God’s love and life itself.

The Christian experience, however, also knows that this discovering, grasping, and becoming familiar with the ‘good news’, requires our openness, trust, and faith. These are expressed in an ongoing search, in humility, and in a fundamentally selfless attitude towards God, the ‘Ultimate Other’. This attitude is not easy to maintain, especially when elements of our society strongly, and even militantly, advocate the opposite.

Advent, therefore, is a time of preparation for the arrival of someone important. It is a period of time when we can prepare ourselves, refocus our lives and priorities, and sharpen our senses that we might become better equipped and prepared to find the ‘good news’ already present in our everyday life but not fully recognized, in the person (life, death and resurrection) of Jesus Christ.

The core sentiments that underlie the experience of the season of Advent are trust, hope, and faith, expressed in the yearning for, and reaching out to, the ‘Ultimate Beyond’. The Christian tradition, therefore, rightly puts the season of Advent at the beginning of the liturgical year, the cycle of the Christian salvation experience. In the next four weeks, we are invited to revisit these fundamental human sentiments. What, or who, is worthy of our trust, hop, and faith?