Letter from the Chaplain: ‘Joyful expectation’ in Advent season


We begin a new liturgical year on Sunday, Nov. 30. Advent, by nature and makeup, is preparatory in character, leading us to Christmas. While the Gloria is omitted during Advent, it will be triumphantly proclaimed anew on Christmas Eve.

Last year we celebrated with readings from Year A, focusing on Matthew’s gospel. This year we shift to Year B and Mark’s account.

Although in the past, Advent was more penitential in character, today it is primarily a season of joyful expectation. While there is an undertone for the need of conversion in the season, Advent is mainly a season of hope. Christian hope is rooted in Christ as we give thanks for his incarnation and expectantly await his return in glory. It is also rooted in Christ’s reign, the kingdom that is present but not yet completely fulfilled. We hope for the fullness of what we already share through the death and resurrection of Christ.

In a sense, Advent celebrates who we are as a church, living between the two comings of Christ – the second coming at the end time and the proximate coming on Christmas day. This attitude of expectant hope should be ours all year long.

In the northern hemisphere, Advent corresponds with increasing darkness and the approach of the shortest day of the year. Thus it prepares us for the coming of the light, both figuratively at Christmas and literally in the lengthening of days that begins after the winter solstice.

Traditionally a German custom, the Advent wreath has become a customary symbol for this season throughout the Christian church. The lighting of the candles, gradually increasing the intensity of light as the nights lengthen, is an action of hopeful expectation. When much of the outdoors seems dead, the circle of evergreen boughs is a symbol of expected renewal.

The readings for the first two Sundays of Advent are concerned with the “parousia,” the second, sudden but hopeful return of Christ. Both are future oriented, and we are invited to “wake from sleep” and to “prepare for the coming of the Lord.” The readings for the third Sunday shift from a future orientation to a focus on the present, the reality that the reign of God is present here and now. This Sunday, traditionally known as Gaudete Sunday, is about joy. As the Sundays unfold, the expectation of the Incarnation increases.

On the fourth and last Sunday of Advent the tone shifts with the focus on the impending celebration of the Incarnation. We now listen to Luke’s account of the annunciation, when the angel Gabriel visited Mary to announce that she was to be the mother of Christ. This focus on the impending celebration of the Incarnation should increase our sense of anticipation.

Therefore, we should all be waiting for something wonderful and new to happen – waiting, not passively, but actively. In a world that is mired in unending conflicts, we must put aside all negative thinking, such as thoughts of familial situations that seem hopeless. In the face of all discouraging thoughts the words from Sacred Scripture come as a provocative challenge. We are called upon to resist the dominant culture of resignation, fatalism and despair. We are strongly called upon to keep our expectations open, because something new and wonderful may happen that will surprise us and disrupt our apathy.

This requires effort from us. We need to wake up and be ready to welcome the Lord, our long expected and joyful guest. This is what our Eucharistic celebration is about. We have already started our journey with Christ from night to light. And this is what our Eucharist celebrates, until the unending feast begins. May the peace of Christ be with us all.