Advent is about getting our hearts ready to welcome the Lord, and there is a great amount of hope and joy in the anticipation... It is this anticipation that can characterise an Advent well journeyed, looking forward to the joy of the Lord’s birth, opening spaces in our hearts for him to reside, allowing hope to bloom within us.
The start of Advent is, for many of us, an opportunity to change gears and to slow down a little as we prepare to celebrate the birth of our Lord. Many of the readings in Advent point to the need to be ready, or to stay awake as the Lord will come when we least expect him to. The idea of “being prepared” can mean different things to many people, and this can affect the quality of our approach to Christmas. We can prepare for eventualities when we plan for uncertainties or we can stay ready because of a fear of others catching us off guard. This sort of preparedness is more common than we think, and many of us do approach our preparations with this in mind, with hope for the future and the promise of joy to come. This sort of preparedness is more forward looking and anticipatory, akin to preparing ourselves for a big celebration. It is good to reflect on how we are approaching Advent this year.
To prepare purely for fear of being caught off guard or because we want to plan for eventualities may be useful in some circumstances, but may not be the best way of preparing ourselves for the coming of our Lord. I would compare this sort of preparedness to doing guard duty during our National Service stint. We were alert and prepared not just because we were tasked with guarding the camps, but because we were acutely aware that any lapse in concentration during this duty could lead to severe punishment. We were alert and prepared not because we looked forward to something, but because we wanted to avoid punishment. This isn’t the best way of living our Advent preparations because we know that the Lord comes in love for our salvation, and that this love casts out all fears. Transforming our preparedness to something that is more joyful and anticipatory would help greatly.
Advent is about getting our hearts ready to welcome the Lord, and there is a great amount of hope and joy in the anticipation. This anticipation of the Lord’s coming is very much like children eagerly awaiting Christmas morning when they are finally allowed to open the presents that have been waiting under the Christmas tree for weeks. I think of the longing glances the children must have had for their presents in the weeks and days leading up to Christmas, imagining what might be in them and looking forward to the joy of opening them on the day itself. It is this anticipation that can characterise an Advent well journeyed, looking forward to the joy of the Lord’s birth, opening spaces in our hearts for him to reside, allowing hope to bloom within us.
Freeing ourselves from fears and expectations so that we can truly let joy and hope into our lives can feel difficult sometimes, but we can try to make this Advent different by doing what the Lord tells us, to go to him as little children do. Our Advent preparations do not have to be complicated or elaborate because the Lord himself came in humility and simplicity, born in a manger among the barnyard animals. I do not believe that we’re called to be extravagant in time or effort to prepare for the Lord’s coming in this ongoing pandemic. Simple efforts like spending a few minutes more in prayer, to connect with friends and family, to reach out to those who may be in need — these are all simple, but powerful ways to live the love and hope that the Lord brings. So let us begin Advent with joy in our hearts, anticipating the joy of Christmas with humility and simplicity, while turning to the Lord and to others with love.
FR STANLEY GOH, SJ