What does Advent Mean?

December, 2010

An Interesting Question…

Here’s the thing. I’m a new Catholic. I know lots of stuff because new Catholics like to learn as much as we can so we study a lot. But I’m not fully up on the whole Catholic calendar thing. Advent, Lent, Ordinary time… Is that the time between leaving the house and arriving somewhere you know you’re going to be late to? Does it become extraordinary time if you actually arrive early?

Advent means Arrival, or Coming. In the Catholic Church, we celebrate Advent as the period in which we are in “expectant waiting” for the arrival of Jesus. We use this time at the beginning of the Catholic Calendar year to focus not only on the coming birth of Jesus but also in expectation of his second coming for our salvation.

Raised as a Protestant, the Advent season was really nothing more to me than the build up to Christmas. When the preacher started talking about baby Jesus and the Christmas tree went up in the narthex. I may be mistaken about this. It is entirely possible that there were sermons about the second coming and I just wasn’t paying attention. So don’t let this be a broad brush, painting Advent from the eyes of the Protestant churches. Just my warped perspective. Apparently, according to Wikipedia, many of them also celebrate Advent for the second coming just as we do.

In the context of my Protestant past, advent is the singing of carols, the decorating of the home, the anticipation for Christmas eve and especially Christmas morning. For midnight services and special prayers and special holiday traditions, handed down from my parents or started with my children.

As a child it was the time during which I hunted down my Christmas presents hidden in the attic my mom thought I couldn’t reach and carefully unwrapping and re wrapping everything so that on Christmas morning there were no surprises. It didn’t matter to me. I was in just as high a state of anticipation at getting to play with my new things as my brothers were at finding out what they were getting. Nobody ever knew until I was an adult and the subject came up around the Christmas fire one year visiting my parents for the holiday.

As a parent myself, advent became the act of scheming and shopping and hiding, and watching my own children open presents we told them we really couldn’t afford this year but which somehow always ended up under the tree anyway. (We never hid presents in our own house. I was smarter than my own parents.) That is when the spirit of giving really sinks in; when giving is WAY more satisfying then receiving. That is when you start to really understand the gift that God gave us in his Son.

So, what does Advent mean to me? It means that I can wait in excited expectation for that present that I’ve already unfolded the wrapper from and peeked at through the scriptures and my faith. I can know that when that final day comes, I can tear off the rest of the wrapper to fully enjoy that gift that I only have a tiny understanding of. I can become wrapped in the arms of Jesus, lay my ear against his chest, listen to his heartbeat for us all and finally understand fully what his gift means to me and all of my brothers and sisters who are also patiently waiting for that final Christmas morning and the coming of our Lord.