The most obvious thing about Advent is that it is a time of preparation for Christmas. That preparation can take many forms. The kind of preparation that dominates our contemporary society has little to do with the birth of Christ. We live in a consumer society. That fact is especially emphasized at this time of year. It is no longer the case that all those ads and trimmings begin to appear only after Thanksgiving. We begin to see them earlier and earlier.
To a great extent the religious significance of Christmas and consequently of Advent has disappeared. I was reminded of that when I visited an elaborate Christmas dis-play some years ago. It was in a public park. The lighting, the decorations, the many scenes depicted were quite impressive. Those scenes included a number of popular icons like Snow White and the seven dwarfs. Ironically, there was no repre- sentation of the Nativity. Just as he was for the most part unrecognized in Bethle-hem Jesus was neither recognized nor welcome in a public park.
Whatever their value or justification such displays do not lead us to recognize what is most important about Christmas. What is most important about Advent and Christmas is how we prepare for and how we celebrate the coming of Christ into our world and into our lives.
Without the grace of faith, the marvelous story of God coming among us in the person of Jesus Christ would seem like a fairy tale, a magical myth without any real meaning and impact on our lives. Without faith, that story would be no more than an enjoyable fiction. With faith it becomes the supreme fact of our lives. God’s word becomes real for us only when God touches us with his grace, empowering us to believe in and to welcome his son into our lives.
In the gospel for this Sunday Matthew recalls the days of Noah and the deluge. He tells how people were unprepared. It was business as usual until the flood came and swept them all away, except Noah and his family. Matthew goes on to say that is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. He urges his hearers to stay awake. He points out that the day of the Lord is coming at an unexpected time. Be prepared!
The Church invites us in a special way during this season to be awake, to be looking for the coming of Jesus. Obviously, that exhortation is not about the historical coming of Jesus. That happened more than 2000 years ago and as such will not be repeated. We need to be looking for Jesus coming into our lives here and now.
We need to be alert. We have to prepare for that. That’s not easy. It is truly a challenge to recognize and welcome Jesus into our daily lives in whatever way he chooses to come. But that is what Advent invites us to do.
Come Lord Jesus! Deepen my faith!