During Advent, Jesus invites us to pay attention to God’s plan for us
In this week’s interview, communication manager David Hazen speaks with Archbishop George J. Lucas about Advent and how we can make the most of this holy season to prepare to welcome Christ at Christmas and at the end of our lives.
Q: In the Gospel reading for the first Sunday of Advent, Jesus tells us directly, "What I say to you I say to all: ‘Watch!’" What should we be watching for?
The church encourages us at the beginning of Advent to be vigilant so that we don’t miss what God is doing in our midst. At Christmas, of course, we celebrate the historical coming of the Son of God as man. But he didn’t just pop in to visit briefly and then leave us alone. Through the Holy Spirit we’re able to experience the action of God in our lives now. Jesus is inviting us to pay attention to God’s plan for us, both in terms of his plan for the salvation of the world and in the particulars of our own daily lives.
Q: This can be a very busy season for most of us. How can Advent be a preparation not just for Christmas day, but helpful for the rest of our lives?
Preparing for Christmas often feels more like a project than anything else. The challenge to our faith during this season is to think about what God has done and is doing. We remember that we’re saved because of God’s project, God’s work, God’s action in our lives, and not by our own efforts.
As a matter of fact, because there is so much busyness during this season, our own efforts can actually distract us from noticing and receiving what God is offering us in the coming of his Son, Jesus Christ.
Q: So would you say that Advent is as much about preparing for the second coming as it is about Christmas?
In a sense, yes. We remember the first coming of Jesus at Christmas, and as the Advent weeks go on we will focus more on that first coming. But at the beginning of the season, we are encouraged to be alert because the Lord is going to come again in glory. Each of us will encounter him at the end of our lives, and that day is coming. The second coming of Jesus is also something for which we should prepare and which we should anticipate.
The Lord came in quiet and in humility at his first coming in Bethlehem. We gather from the Scriptures and from the teaching of our faith, that when the Lord comes again it’s not going to be quiet. It will be a huge disruption in the heavens and on earth when the Lord comes in righteousness and in power to put things right and establish final justice – to reorder things that are out of order. Now he is offering us the opportunity to prepare for that. He is giving us the time to begin or to continue to order our lives according to the light of the Gospel. In this way we will be good stewards while the Lord is away, and we’ll be prepared to meet him when he comes.
Q: How can we cultivate greater silence this Advent so as to enter into prayer more readily?
Our Catholic tradition offers us many helps during this season to be more attentive and quiet so that we can hear the Word of the Lord and recognize the signs of his presence and activity in our lives. The Scripture readings for the Sundays and the weekdays of Advent are really rich with the promise of God that is expressed by the prophets. It is important for us to be quiet and to listen to what God is promising because God is as good as his word. In order to be able to recognize the activity of God in our own lives, we need to hear again what he has promised to do for us all throughout history and what he has been faithful in doing.
I would encourage a meditation on the Scripture readings for the Sundays and weekdays of Advent. Even if one is not able to go to a weekday Mass, the readings are readily available to us. I suggest carving out a little quiet time, maybe at the beginning or end of the day, to read those Scripture passages with a sense that this is something that God wants me to hear today.
The church also encourages us to receive the sacrament of reconciliation during the season of Advent. It is another place where we encounter God’s action in our lives; in a very powerful but gentle way, we meet the merciful Lord. And in a sense we come to recognize again the reason why Jesus has come: Our heavenly Father has sent his Son to us so that we might have forgiveness and life. He has come not first as our judge but as our Savior, and he extends his saving mercy to us in that sacrament.
Q: Obviously, gift-giving often takes center stage this time of year. How can we make this custom more fruitful for ourselves and our families?
The giving of gifts is not a bad thing, but it can become overly commercialized, and we can become too preoccupied with lavish gifts. At the same time, being attentive to others’ needs and desiring to give someone a gift is a reminder of how God deals with us – it can remind us of the perfect gift that the Savior is for us at every moment in our lives. Our heavenly Father has given us the gift of his Son, not because we are so deserving, not because he had to, and not because there is some pressure on him (as we might feel in relation to Christmas gifts). The gift of his Son is a pure gift.
It is important, then, that we try to make our own gift-giving as much a pure gift, a sign of kindness and favor to those we love, or even to those that we don’t even know, with whom we have the opportunity to share our wealth during this season. Receiving the gift of mercy in an explicit way in the sacrament of reconciliation and being more intentional and reflective about that brings home to us the nature of God’s providence. Our gift-giving can reflect that more, once we have allowed ourselves to experience it in such a profound way.