COLUMN: Advent offers hope, renewal and spiritual growth
Published 5:35 pm Wednesday, December 21, 2022
Pope Francis, the leader of the Catholic Church, once wrote, “Let us open our hearts and receive the grace of this Advent season, which is Christ himself, whom God our Father has revealed to the entire world. Where God is born, hope is born. Where God is born, peace is born. And where peace is born, there is no longer room for hatred and for war.” There’s just love.
It’s that time of year again for many Christian churches worldwide to observe this sacred yearly church tradition that offers each and everyone hope for a better life-world, renewal of faith, and spiritual growth.
Nov. 27 is the first Sunday of Advent, from the Latin words “advenire” (to come to) and “adventus” (arrival). The dictionary defines advent as the arrival of a notable person, thing or event. In Christian theology, Advent is the coming or second coming of Christ into this world, hence, in the celebration and commemoration of Christ’s incarnation or nativity on Christmas Day.
Advent season is the period of four consecutive or preceding Sundays leading up to Christmas. It’s four weeks of preparation, anticipation and expectation of all faithful believers for the arrival or coming again of Jesus Christ, the Messiah, our Lord and Savior, into their lives.
The Catholic Church considers Advent a time of self-examination,humility, and spiritual preparation for the birth of Jesus Christ. It’s a season of prayer and reflection, a meaningful time for believers to appreciate the meaning of Christ’s coming at Bethlehem and his coming at the end of time. For some Christians, Fridays of Advent can be observed as days of fast and abstinence, as during Lent.
One of the highlights of the season is the Advent wreath, made out of evergreen (either fresh or plastic), distinctly displayed at the altar of every church and even in designated areas of Christian homes. This wreath is shaped in a perfect circle to symbolize the eternity of God.
In the wreath are four candles (three purple and one pink or violet), representing the four weeks or Sundays of the season that eventually culminates on Christmas Eve.
At the center of the wreath is a large white candle that symbolizes Christ. Together with the four outer candles, this Christ candle is lit on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day to remind Christians that Jesus is the light of the world, the light that shines in or guides one’s life amidst the darkness and chaos in his/her life.
Each of the four candles, lit every Sunday during Advent season, symbolizes the four virtues that Jesus Christ brings us hope, peace, joy and love. To other Christian churches, the lighting of the first candle symbolizes expectation, while the second hope, the third joy, and the fourth purity.
To mark the first Sunday of Advent, Christian churches and families at home having Advent wreaths light the first candle (hope/prophecy candle) on the Advent wreath.
For the second Sunday, another candle (peace/Bethlehem candle) is lit. Same for the third Sunday (joy/shepherd candle) and fourth Sunday (love/angels candle) until all four candles are lit on the fourth Sunday.
Another sign that Advent has arrived is the singing of the popular church hymn, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel!” usually sung as the entrance song at the beginning of church worship service.
As a sacred season of hope and longing, waiting in anticipation for his coming, Advent offers an opportunity for spiritual preparation, cleansing of heart, growth and development for all believers as they continue their journey towards a life of faith and hope, love and peace, and everlasting joy.
With the outgoing slow exit or disappearance (complete departure, hopefully and prayerfully) of COVID-19 pandemic that has fatally ravaged the world and its economy, the ongoing war in Ukraine (again hopefully and prayerfully it will end soon), and amidst all the hustle and bustle of the world and the routine or hectic schedule of everyday living, what can you do to prepare yourself during this Advent season?
Praying is one simple activity. A short, simple prayer — one that comes from your heart, with gratitude and repentance, and sincere acknowledgement of your imperfections, misdeeds and transgressions — can be a powerful weapon in difficult trying times.
A Dutch Catholic priest, professor, writer and theologian, Henri Josef Machiel Nouwen (aka Henri J.M. Nouwen), wrote that prayer always leads us to the heart of God and the heart of the human struggle at the same time.
“Personal prayer is the true test of our vocation. If we take the discipline of the heart seriously, we have to start by setting aside a time and a place (to pray) when and where we can be with God and God alone, not once in a while, but regularly,” Nouwen wrote.
Praying, not only for ourselves but also for others, can do wonders — and miracles, too. The unexplained healing and recovery, and transformation of lives of some people are a testament to the power of prayers. The lives of the saints are also manifestations of how prayers have played a vital part in being holy people of faith and followers of Jesus Christ.
Another personal activity is going to church on Sundays to be in communion with the faith community. If you’ve been away from your church for a while, for whatever reason, now can be the time to get back and be reconnected with other members of the faith community, praying, praising and worshiping, and giving thanks to Almighty Father-God. There’s strength in numbers when many pray together for universal peace and unity, for Love to rule and flourish in each and everyone’s heart.
Listening to our pastor’s homily (or sermon, in church) and reading God’s Holy Word or Good News and practicing what we’ve heard and learned is also one way of allowing or welcoming back Jesus into our lives again, thereby we grow holiness and strengthen our faith.
One Christian writer opined that Advent is a time for re-commitment to good, healthy habits — prayer, acts of charity and justice, and a greater awareness of God’s presence in our daily lives.
“God alone can save us and free us from the many forms of evil and selfishness in our midst. Let us welcome into our lives God’s mercy, which Jesus Christ has bestowed on us, so that we, in turn, can show mercy to our brothers and sisters. In this way, we will make peace grow,” said Pope Francis.
May your Advent season be filled with prayer and praise, hope and healing, charity and compassion, justice and peace, love and joy!
Chris A. Quilpa, a retired U.S. Navy veteran, lives in Suffolk. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.