Advent: Season of hope

  • Written by Kevin Birnbaum
  • Published in NW Stories
"The Expectant Madonna with St. Joseph," National Gallery of Art, Washington "The Expectant Madonna with St. Joseph," National Gallery of Art, Washington

The church’s ‘New Year’ is a time to prepare for the coming of Christ

Advent is a time of joyful expectation and preparation, both for the celebration of Jesus’ birth at Christmas and for his second coming at the end of the world. Use the resources on these pages to enter more deeply into what Pope Francis has called “this season of active waiting and watchfulness.”

Pope Francis: Advent restores the ‘horizon of hope’

The First Sunday of Advent marks the beginning of the liturgical year in the Western church, and this season is a time for all of us to “begin again,” as Pope Francis has said:

“Just as in each of our lives we always need to begin again, to get up again, to rediscover the meaning of the goal of our lives, so also for the great human family it is always necessary to rediscover the common horizon toward which we are journeying. The horizon of hope! This is the horizon that makes for a good journey. The season of Advent … restores this horizon of hope, a hope which does not disappoint for it is founded on God’s Word. A hope which does not disappoint, simply because the Lord never disappoints! He is faithful! He does not disappoint! Let us think about and feel this beauty.

“The model of this spiritual disposition, of this way of being and journeying in life, is the Virgin Mary. A simple girl from the country who carries within her heart the fullness of hope in God! In her womb, God’s hope took flesh, it became man, it became history: Jesus Christ. Her Magnificat is the canticle of the People of God on a journey, and of all men and women who hope in God and in the power of his mercy. Let us allow ourselves to be guided by her, she who is mother, a mama, and knows how to guide us. Let us allow ourselves to be guided by her during this season of active waiting and watchfulness.”

Source: Pope Francis’ Angelus message on the First Sunday of Advent, Dec. 1, 2013. Available at

 Lippo Memmi, “St. John the Baptist” Lippo Memmi, “St. John the Baptist”

John the Baptist prepares the way of the Lord

Throughout Advent, the Mass readings remind us of how God prepared the world for the coming of Christ. The Catechism of the Catholic Church offers a reflection on how the prophets, and especially John the Baptist, relate to our own Advent preparations:

“The coming of God’s Son to earth is an event of such immensity that God willed to prepare for it over centuries. He makes everything converge on Christ: all the rituals and sacrifices, figures and symbols of the ‘First Covenant.’ He announces him through the mouths of the prophets who succeeded one another in Israel. Moreover, he awakens in the hearts of the pagans a dim expectation of this coming.

“St. John the Baptist is the Lord’s immediate precursor or forerunner, sent to prepare his way. ‘Prophet of the Most High,’ John surpasses all the prophets, of whom he is the last. … John bears witness to Christ in his preaching, by his Baptism of conversion, and through his martyrdom.

“When the Church celebrates the liturgy of Advent each year, she makes present this ancient expectancy of the Messiah, for by sharing in the long preparation for the Savior’s first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desire for his second coming. By celebrating the precursor’s birth and martyrdom, the Church unites herself to his desire: ‘He must increase, but I must decrease.’”

Source: CCC 522-524. Available at

The Poissy AntiphonalThe Poissy Antiphonal

The O Antiphons, ancient prayers of expectation

Everyone knows the Advent carol “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” But did you know that the hymn comes from the great O Antiphons, ancient prayers that reflect on the coming of Christ? (Some say the antiphons are referenced in the writings of Boethius, who died in the early sixth century.) The O Antiphons are still recited in the church’s official evening prayer Dec. 17–23. Try incorporating the antiphons into your own prayer routine, or start praying the Liturgy of the Hours at

O Sapientia (Dec. 17): O Wisdom, O holy Word of God, you govern all creation with your strong yet tender care. Come and show your people the way to salvation.

O Adonai (Dec. 18): O sacred Lord of ancient Israel, who showed yourself to Moses in the burning bush, who gave him the holy law on Sinai mountain: come, stretch out your mighty hand to set us free.

O Radix Jesse (Dec. 19): O Flower of Jesse’s stem, you have been raised up as a sign for all peoples; kings stand silent in your presence; the nations bow down in worship before you. Come, let nothing keep you from coming to our aid.

O Clavis David (Dec. 20): O Key of David, O royal Power of Israel, controlling at your will the gate of heaven: come, break down the prison walls of death for those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death; and lead your captive people into freedom.

O Oriens (Dec. 21): O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice: come, shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

O Rex Gentium (Dec. 22): O King of all the nations, the only joy of every human heart; O Keystone of the mighty arch of man, come and save the creature you fashioned from the dust.

O Emmanuel (Dec. 23): O Emmanuel, king and lawgiver, desire of the nations, Savior of all people, come and set us free, Lord our God.

Fun fact: If you read the first letters of the antiphons in reverse order, you get the Latin phrase ero cras, which means (roughly) “Tomorrow I will be there.”

Source: Father William Saunders, Arlington Catholic Herald, “What are the ‘O Antiphons’?” Available at

part of Cover of "An Advent Pilgrimage"

Archbishop Sartain: ‘Only God can fulfill us’

The season of Advent reminds us of our weakness — and that’s a good thing, according to Archbishop J. Peter Sartain: “There is probably no better way to prepare for Christmas than to admit our insufficiency, our weakness, our incapacity to save ourselves. In many ways that is what Advent is all about: preparing a way by recognizing that only God can fulfill us.

“To admit our insufficiency is not a sign of defeat; to do so is a sign of welcome to the Savior. Jesus is ready — and desires — to come to us. Will we let him in?”

Source: "An Advent Pilgrimage: Preparing Our Hearts for Jesus." Available free of charge at Western Washington parishes.

Online resources

Find more Advent resources, including an Advent calendar with daily readings and activities, at the website of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Northwest Catholic - Dec. 2014