Written by Mary Frances Myler
As we look forward to the holiday season, we begin decorating trees, sending cards, wrapping presents, baking cookies. Amidst the visible preparations for Christmas, Advent invites us to simultaneously prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ. This season offers a beautiful opportunity to actively look forward to Christmas not only through our personal spirituality, but also through our engagement with the Church. Through partnership with generous donors, the NMCF supports the work of Catholic parishes, schools, and organizations in their mission of evangelization. We find joy in this engagement with our local Catholic community, especially when we witness the ways in which these organizations work to prepare hearts and homes for the coming of Christ.
In this season, we invite you to embrace the message of Advent by supporting the Church’s work of evangelization in the Northern Michigan region. Active participation in the mission of the Church can take many forms, for while we are all called to joyfully await the coming of the Messiah, we are each called to uniquely live out this anticipation. Advent’s call to anticipation can seem personal, private, individual; yet, we cannot exist apart from the Church, the Body and Bride of Christ. We cannot exist apart from the world. Fostering an attitude of anticipation within our hearts resonates with the equally present call to evangelize — to prepare the world for Christ’s coming. This is the work of the Church, and so it becomes our work too. Christmas requires this prelude of preparation, readying us to receive the grandest of all gifts: the incarnation.
Pope Benedict XVI said in a 2009 homily, “Advent becomes an opportunity to reawaken within ourselves the true meaning of waiting, returning to the heart of our faith which is the mystery of Christ.” Advent, like the Mass, calls us to “await the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.” And, while Advent heightens and emphasizes this call, the reawakening of the “true meaning of waiting” stands as the fundamental attitude of Christian life regardless of the liturgical season. As Christians, we must learn to wait, and we must learn to wait well.
To wait well, we must understand the nature of our anticipation. Advent emphasizes the paradox of waiting, for Advent anticipates Christmas and the second coming, while also celebrating the presence of Christ here, now, and always in the life of the Church. Christ is future and present, expected and already-begun. This paradox leads theologian Fr. Alexander Schmemman to write, “In its essence the Church is the presence, the actualization in this world of the “world to come” in this aeon — of the Kingdom.” Advent attends to the essence of the Church as a paradoxical institution which lives out the very life it anticipates.
This antinomy — this simultaneous presence and hope — strengthens us to actively prepare our hearts and our world for the coming of Christ. By virtue of our baptism, Christ dwells within us, and he invites us to conform our hearts and our world to his gift of life. Because we already possess the very gift we anticipate, our waiting must express the presence of Christ’s life within our souls and within our Church.
The preparation for Christmas may take different forms in our individual lives. Time spent in prayer is essential, and prayer journaling, learning about the lives of the saints, or adding a weekday mass to our Advent routine can strengthen our interior spirituality during this season. In seeking to prepare the world for Christ, we can set aside time to volunteer within our parishes and communities. Or, if Advent is a busy time, we can commit to small acts of kindness — baking a few extra Christmas cookies for a neighbor, sending a handwritten card to a friend, or staying after mass for a bit to talk with fellow parishioners. Although fostering relationships with others may seem like a mundane way to share the life of Christ, small acts of love speak just as loudly as grand gestures of kindness.
Regardless of how we choose to wait for Christmas, Advent invites us to embrace the true meaning of waiting — that is, to consider the role which we play in preparing the world for Christ. We possess the life of Christ, and this indwelling life seeks expression in our action. Jesus empowers us to live in active, prayerful, and loving preparation for the joyful feast of his birth. He calls each of us to respond to his presence with a reflective question. How am I called to ready my heart and the world for the coming of Christ?