Happy Advent, and happy new year to everyone! That's right, the Church year begins today, over a month earlier than the secular calendar. Did that catch you off guard? It happens a lot that time seems to vanish away from us, where things that we felt were still weeks away are all of the sudden upon us. The new year is one example, but not the only one. Did you know the Jubilee Year of Mercy just ended last week? And of course, Christmas and New Years' Eve are around the corner as well. Sometimes we can get caught off guard with birthdays or anniversaries, with other deadlines that are important for either our work or for our personal lives. We know these “surprises” really aren't surprises, but sometimes we are a little shocked that things come upon us so suddenly. Of course, this wouldn't be a problem if we prepared ourselves ahead of time.
Well, it turns out that it works like that in our spiritual lives also, and at the start of Advent we are reminded (I should say we are warned) precisely about those things that can catch us off guard if we aren't careful, and they are pretty important.
Advent begins really with a call for us to “wake up” to what is really important and to prepare for it so we aren't caught off guard. This is precisely the image Saint Paul uses: we are living in a darkness that is passing away, just like every morning at 6am in South Bend this time of year. That darkness (of sin and evil) which engulfs our world will not last forever, and will in fact be conquered very soon when the sun rises (when Jesus returns). We don't know exactly when, but we know it's coming. So we must prepare, Paul says: put off the deeds of darkness and live as in the light, putting on the Lord Jesus. If we do not live properly, Jesus makes clear in the Gospel that we will be in a very unpleasant situation of surprise: like getting caught by a thief, or being swept away in the flood like those who mocked Noah for preparing his family for the future he saw coming.
So too in Advent we prepare, joyfully but soberly, with true awareness of our need, but with greater anticipation for the good the Lord is planning.
Isn't the idea of a new year exciting, encouraging? I love the thought that I can turn into a better priest, put more good into the world by my work, and help those around me, and fall more in love with the God who created me, who died on a Cross for me, and whose Holy Spirit dwells within me. This excitement is what Isaiah speaks of in the first reading: “Let us go to the mountain of the Lord, to the God of Jacob, so that He may instruct us.” Let us learn what it means to be children of the light and turn aside from the darkness around us, for this darkness leads nowhere, is passing away, and offers us nothing compared to the beauty that the light opens up for us.
So many people make New Year’s resolutions that fizzle out before January ends. However, if you use this season of Advent as an opportunity to get a head start, you will have developed the right spiritual habit by the time Jan 1st rolls around. And don’t settle for some little resolution that doesn’t work on your heart. Make it important, make it significant, but make it attainable.
So what’s your spiritual resolution for the New Year of Advent? Perhaps you can prepare for Christ’s coming with more quiet, more prayer, more mercy & love to those around us, more joy at the new beginning God is offering us, so that the Lord's coming (at the end of time or at our own passing) isn't a terrifying surprise, but something we daily look forward to with joyful anticipation.