Over the weekend of Saturday November 30/Sunday, December 1 we will begin the Season of Advent. The word Advent is derived from the Latin adventus which means “coming.” Advent is a season of joyful expectation which prepares for the commemoration of the Incarnation which is celebrated during the Christmas Season and which looks forward to the Second Coming of our Lord at the end of time.
The Season of Advent goes back to Gregory the Great (d. 604), who fixed the season at four weeks, composed seasonal prayers and antiphons for the season. In the ninth century the Roman liturgy was exported to Gaul. In Gaul the theme of preparation for the Second Coming of Christ was added to the celebration along with penitential elements. The fusion of Gallican and Roman Advents returned to Rome by the 12th Century and provided the basis for today’s Advent. (John A. Melloh, The Encyclopedia of Catholicism).
Isaiah 40:3 is the Old Testament verse which best describes the conversion which is central to the Season of Advent.
“A voice cries out: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.
Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together,
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’”
This reading is taken from the section of the Book of Isaiah that was written while the people of Judah were exiles in Babylon in approximately 538 B.C... The voice is that of the prophet telling the people that God will soon save them from exile and bring them across the desert to their homeland of Judah. In the New Testament the voice is John the Baptist who calls the people of his day to prepare their lives for the coming of the Messiah. We likewise are called to change our lives in order to prepare to receive the Messiah. This vigilance is central to the meaning of Advent. What needs to change in our lives as we prepare to meet our Savior?
FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT
Last Sunday, the First Sunday of Advent we heard a reading from the 24th Chapter of the Gospel of Matthew. In the reading Jesus challenged his disciples to be prepared for the coming of the Lord. He spoke about the great flood. Before the flood people lived lives in a normal way and were not prepared when the flood finally came. The point is that we are to be prepared for the coming of the Lord. Since we do not know when the Lord will come we are to always be vigilant. At Christmas we celebrate how that salvation broke into our world.
SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT
The Gospel of the Second Sunday of Advent is also taken from the beginning of the Gospel of Matthew. John the Baptist proclaims that the Lord will come soon. Many come to John in order to be baptized in the Jordan River. John tells the Sadducees and Pharisees that neither the mere ritual of baptism nor their Jewish heritage will save them from the wrath which will come soon. John tells the Sadducees and Pharisees that they will be saved from the coming wrath only if their lives bear fruit. Bearing fruit refers to living a life of love.
THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT
The Gospel for the Third Sunday of Advent presents John the Baptist in prison. John sends his disciples forth to ask Jesus if he is in fact the Christ. Jesus quotes from the first reading of the Mass, from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, to say that he is the Christ as he heals the sick and proclaims good news to the poor. Jesus speaks of the great dignity of John, who is the messenger whom God sent to prepare the way for Jesus. Jesus then says of each of us, “yet the least born into the kingdom of heaven is greater than he (Mt 11:11).”
FOURTH SUNDAY OF ADVENT
On the Fourth Sunday of Advent we reflect on the story of our salvation through hearing the story of the birth of Jesus. In the story Joseph learns that Mary is pregnant and so decides to divorce her quietly. An angel appears to Joseph and convinces him to marry Mary as Jesus was conceived through the power of the Holy Spirit. Matthew reveals to us that this child is Emmanuel which means “God is with us. (Mat 1:23)” The reading speaks of the faith of Joseph and allows us to reflect on who Jesus continues to be for us.