the Most Rev. John M. Quinn, Bishop of Winona-Rochester Diocese

by the Most Rev. John M. Quinn, Bishop of Winona-Rochester Diocese

 

The Season of Advent has a special place in the lives of Christians, as believers in Jesus Christ prepare once again to celebrate the great Feast of Christmas on December 25. Personally, I have come to value and appreciate Advent as a time to slow down, to stop the frenetic pace of life and to avoid the anxiety that can accompany the time before Christmas. The Catholic Church insists on the importance of entering Advent, so that Christians can make time and open up a space in their lives to contemplate the overwhelming and generous love of the Triune God made visible in the Incarnation and the Birth of Jesus Christ on Christmas.

During the Season of Advent, you will notice in every Catholic Church the absence of Christmas decorations. There are no lighted Christmas trees in the sanctuary, no poinsettia plants or wreathes or even the manger scene of Mary and Joseph and the Baby Jesus in the church. You will find, however, a wreath with four candles that are lighted one each week to mark the four weeks of Advent and the use of the color purple to get our attention to be serious about the days leading up to Christmas. Hymns are about the waiting for the Messiah and the yearning for salvation, such as “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” There is no singing of Christmas carols until Christmas. Shopping, parties and decorations all have their place and are to be enjoyed, but they cannot replace the Advent preparation to be awake and sober. That is because Jesus Christ, who first came as a baby born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem, will one day return in glory to judge the nations. Maranatha is an Advent expression that means, “Come, Lord Jesus!”

The Season of Advent is a gift, and, like every gift, it is to be opened carefully and appreciated. Without Advent, the real gift of Christmas, which is the Incarnation and Birth of Jesus Christ and one day His return in glory, can be opened too quickly and is centered on all the externals, such as the trees, lights, ornaments, wreaths, presents under the tree and generous hospitality. When the externals of Christmas become the center of our lives, the simple joy of Christmas is lost and is replaced by increasing anxiety and a frenzied pace.

I want to make a few personal suggestions about celebrating Advent. It seems that I am always in a hurry and while waiting in a checkout lane at a supermarket; I may want to quickly change lanes, if my lane slows down. If this happens to you, take an Advent moment, relax, be patient, and be thankful for the blessing of the moment. Another way to find time for prayers this Advent is to turn off your cell phone and be alone with the Lord in your car or when out for a walk. Silence is God’s language. Lastly, expect some imperfections or changes to happen, that may upend your plans for Christmas. Strings of lights on a tree burnout at the most inopportune time, gifts don’t arrive as planned, family members cancel their travel plans due to weather, and unemployment and illness can happen. The first Christmas wasn’t perfect, as Mary and Joseph were travelers, they had no placed to stay and the King of Kings was born in a stable. Advent prepares us not for a perfect Christmas of externals, but for the perfect gift of our redemption in Jesus Christ who loved us in our imperfection.

A very wise bishop friend of mine recently spoke about the difference between a compass and a weather vane. When you are guided by a compass, it always points north. It never gives a false reading and never sends a lost traveler in the wrong direction. A weather vane, however, keeps changing direction, because of the force of the wind. Much like our culture, weather vanes can express the agenda of the present and the changing views of our time. Advent is our compass, that always points to Jesus Christ, so that the weather vane driven anxieties of the present such as politics, economics, globalization and consumerism do not replace the unchanging truth that, “Today a Savior is born for us who is Christ the Lord.” Happy Advent!