It may be a matter of time when the word ‘Christmas’ disappears from our vocabulary and remain as an unused etymological artifact in Wikipedia or some obscure digital bin.
This may sound hard to believe, but some first world countries are investing serious efforts to redefine or erase the word and the very meaning of Christmas. There are cities converting the Christmas season into a casual holiday by the prohibiting carols, crèches, and other decors related to Christ’s birth. They propose a more abstract, generic but (they claim) ‘politically correct’ expression: “Happy Holidays!”
These individuals explain that they are only being sensitive about the sentiments of other religious denominations who may not be celebrating Christmas as a tradition. Behind these secular political correctness maneuvers lies nothing but a subtle but aggressive campaign to strip man –whether Catholics, Muslims, Buddhists or Jews– of his religiosity.
But this is not the greatest threat to Christmas. What is more dangerous is that more and more Christians are forgetting its true meaning by replacing it with materialistic and commercial cravings. The season is now becoming a yearly pretext, camouflaged with philanthropic make-up to quell one’s conscience, to indulge in worldly pleasures to fill one’s bottomless stockings with greed and pride.
And if many Christians are forgetting what Christmas really means it is because they have also forgotten how to genuinely prepare for it with Advent. There can be no Christmas without Advent, and vice versa. Christmas without Advent would simply be feasting on one’s childish ego instead of receiving the Child.
Advent, from the Latin word adventus, “can be translated as ‘presence’ or ‘arrival’. (…) It referred to the arrival of a high official and especially of kings or emperors in a province. (…) Christians adopted this word in order to express their relationship with Jesus Christ. (…) when they used this word, they intended to say: God is here. He has not withdrawn from the world. He has not left us alone. (Pope Benedict XVI, The Blessing of Christmas)”
These considerations of Benedict XVI again remind us what Advent is and what it is for. It is a time of hope, but a hope placed on Someone and the only One who can offer us Salvation: God. If we remove God’s visitation from the picture, then man is left to hope only in his own fragile and twisted nature and in the false glitter of worldly goods that further blind him from his true identity and purpose in life.
Pope Francis reflects that Advent “returns us to the horizon of hope, a hope that does not disappoint because it is founded on the Word of God. A hope that does not disappoint, simply because the Lord never disappoints! He is faithful!” Moreover he adds, “Let us rediscover the beauty of being together along the way: the Church, with her vocation and mission, and the whole of humanity, the people, the civilizations, the cultures, all together on the paths of time. (Address, 1-XII-2013)”
Thus Advent, a journey towards the birth of our Lord in the Manger, reminds us that we are not solitary travelers. God walks with us! This is what unfailingly fills us with hope! Moreover, it encourages us to sincerely strive to prepare ourselves not only for the end of our passage here in life, but also to make the most of the divine companionship that God affords us during the journey. Advent is not only a preparation for Christmas, but a call to embrace our Lord’s constant visitation in the soul’s life journey.
Pope Benedict gives one example of our Lord’s visitation in the form of human sickness. “Illness can present itself in a new light when we see it as a part of Advent. For when we rebel against it, this is not only because it is painful or because it is hard to be still and alone: we rebel against it because there are so many important things we ought to be doing and because illness seems meaningless. But it is not in the least meaningless! In the structure of human life as a whole, it is profoundly meaningful. It can be a moment in our life that belongs to God, a time when we are open to him and thus learn to rediscover our own selves. (Op. cit.)”
Besides illness, there are other forms of ‘visitations’ of Jesus in our soul. There are graces and blessings, material successes and failures, love and betrayals, etc. Literally every aspect of our short earthly sojourn can be an Advent experience. And Pope Francis says that the “journey is never finished. Just as in each of our own lives, there is always a need to restart, to rise again, to recover a sense of the goal of one’s own existence. (Ibid.)”
We can somehow call this rich spiritual outlook as ‘Adventing life’. And by living this spirit will we experience what Benedict XVI says, “The Lord is here. This Christian certainty is meant to help us look at the world with new eyes and to understand the “visitation” as a visit, as one way in which he can come to us and be close to us. (Op. cit.)”
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