The Meaning of Advent

by Catherine Doherty

Advent is a strange word. It means “coming”. An advent is something that is arriving soon.

When we have something coming, when we expect an event, an advent, we are usually alert inside. We are listening. My family is coming for Christmas and I am in the country, and I am listening for the sound of a car. It is a special car, and I am filled with a special listening.

Advent is such a beautiful season. It is a time for renewal; it is especially a time for forgiveness because God brings his forgiveness to us in the shape of his Son.

The Church year begins with the First Sunday of Advent, and every time it comes around, my heart thrills anew.

For me, the word “advent” has a double connotation. It means the arrival of a new liturgical season, the preparatory time for Christmas, for the coming of Our Lord as a Child on earth, for his incarnation in time.

But it also means that other advent—the parousia, the second coming of Christ, in glory, at the end of the world. That is an advent which Russian hearts long for and expect.

They hope it will happen in their lifetime, but, even if it doesn’t, they rejoice that it will happen in someone else’s lifetime.

These two Advents blend in my soul, mind, and heart. They bring a hunger and a longing that beggars words, for they are the seasons of expectation. Expectation of what? Of whom? To me, of the Tremendous Lover, of the Lord, Christ.

To me, the bells of this season, whenever they ring, either for Mass or for the Angelus, always have the joyous sound of wedding bells. For Advent is the springtime of love, when the soul awaits her Lover, knowing deep down that he is coming and that he will make her his own!

This knowledge is unshakable. It is based on a faith that is immovable, filled with a knowledge that is found, not in books, but in the prayer of silence, the prayer of love.

To meet this Lover, our Bridegroom, we must be awake for Him.

In his letter to the Romans (13:11–14), St. Paul calls us in a loud voice to arise from our sleep! Our salvation is nearer than we believed; the night has passed, and the day is at hand. This call of his means now! Today!

Every day of the year, every hour of every day is the hour for us to arise from our sleep.

We have so many sleeps. We have that strange inner sleep that wants to escape from whatever we have to do in the marketplace with the powers of secularism.

And we have that other emotional sleep that drags us into bed (literally, if we only could get there) to escape an even bigger fight with the powers of darkness within ourselves.

For we know that we have to die to self so that we may live in Christ, and this is hard for us to face.

We also have to fight the simple sleep of weariness that any vocation places on the shoulders of its members—weariness of body, weariness of mind, and weariness of soul.

Yes, St. Paul is right: we must arise from our sleep. Let us come out of the night of our emotions—the night of our anger, of our hostility, of all those negativities within us. Let us walk in the daylight of simplicity, of friendship, of forgiveness, of understanding, of tenderness and gentleness to one another.

Advent is a time for this arising. It is such a joyous season, such a loving season! Let us enter into its joy.

From Donkey Bells, (2000), pp. 2-4, available from MH Publications