How can I fruitfully observe the season of Advent?

Advent is a blessed opportunity to become more responsive to the presence of God in our lives. For Advent to be fruitful, it is best for us to observe it as the church intends.

Let us start by distinguishing Advent from Lent. Both precede great saving mysteries of our faith: Lent precedes the paschal mystery — the passion, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus — while Advent precedes the celebration of the Incarnation in the Christmastide solemnities. However, Lent is primarily a penitential season while Advent is primarily a time of preparation. This change in focus will affect both how we experience Advent and the fruit for which we should hope.

Ultimately, Advent is a time to prepare ourselves for the coming of Jesus. The Mass readings of Advent help us to better understand the various levels of preparation. Although Advent culminates with the celebration of Christ’s birth as a babe in Bethlehem, we are not just celebrating something that happened 2,000 years ago. We are also reminding ourselves that Jesus is present to us today as he promised to be (see Matthew 28:20; Hebrews 13:8).

Jesus comes to us in a variety of ways: as our judge at the end of time, in the sacraments (especially the Eucharist), in the Scriptures, in the lives of the saints, in our moments of prayer, and in encounters of charity with others, just to name a few.

Often, Jesus comes to the world through us, and so the Lord seeks our obedient and generous gift of self, so that we can be the vehicle of his presence and the instrument of his work every day. Our Sunday Gospel readings in Advent are filled with examples of such cooperative instruments of God’s work and presence, like John the Baptist, Mary, Joseph and Elizabeth.

For Advent to be fruitful, we must develop the capacity to recognize, receive and respond to God’s presence. No other Advent preparation really matters if we have not grown in these essential aspects of discipleship.

Recognize: By learning about how God has acted in salvation history through the Scriptures and the lives of saints we can better recognize God’s action and presence in our own lives.

Receive: God offers the grace of his presence to us in every sacrament we celebrate. God also comes to us in moments of prayer throughout the day. By fostering a quiet heart, we can more readily receive this grace.

Respond: God always looks for our response. When we receive the Lord’s love, we desire to share that love with others. Responding to the presence of God always calls us to missionary and charitable outreach so that others can experience the same grace through us.

The weeks leading up to Christmas are usually a frantic time of office parties, school pageants, shopping and decorating. None of these activities captures the true meaning of Advent. It should be a time of quiet, patient preparation, prayerful awareness, practical charity and increased reception of the sacraments — especially reconciliation and the Eucharist. 

This Advent will be different because of COVID-19 restrictions. Perhaps it can also be a blessed experience of willingly embracing the spirit of Advent as a time of spiritual renewal and encounter rather than distracting consumerism.

Northwest Catholic - December 2020

Bishop Daniel Mueggenborg

Daniel Mueggenborg is an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Seattle. Send your questions to [email protected].

Daniel Mueggenborg es obispo auxiliar de la Arquidiócesis de Seattle. Envíe sus preguntas a: [email protected].