Advent: Waiting, Preparing

Good News Coming

By Randy Roche, S.J.
When I was a child, I learned that the word Advent meant “coming,” that Christmas was coming. Most important for me was that I could begin looking forward to the rituals of my favorite time of year: Christmas lights and other decorations in our home, our neighborhood and in shopping centers; family gatherings and special music; and at some wonderful time, the arrival of our Christmas tree and decorating it as a family and placing gifts under it. Not only that, but my birthday happens to be Dec. 25 — the season that each year was announced in church on the first Sunday of Advent anticipated not only the birthday of Jesus, but mine, too. Advent, to me, was all good news.

Over the years, Advent changed for me. Believing that God became a human and was born into this world in complete dependence upon Mary and Joseph, deepened my appreciation for family life. I am still of the mind that the highest and most challenging vocation in the world is to raise children. As I grew in admiration for the mix of human and divine represented by Advent, I came to detest the barrage of commercials that appeared everywhere, long before the season of Advent. But each year I have been revitalized by the generosity I see in people of all faiths, as well as those of no faith, who take Advent as an occasion to show special concern for the poor and for those in every kind of need. Care for others reveals to me the presence and action of God among us. The season is still all about good news.

For me, as an adult and as a Jesuit priest, Advent remains a favorite time of year: I anticipate with joy that Christmas is coming, not just the holidays.

Randy Roche, S.J., is director of the LMU’s Center for Ignatian Spirituality.

Waiting and Serving

By Tom King
The season of Advent is a beautiful time of the church year. The Roman calendar reminds us that “Advent has a two-fold character: As a season to prepare for Christmas when Christ’s first coming to us is remembered; [and] as a season when that remembrance directs the mind and heart to await Christ’s second coming at the end of time” (“Season of Advent,” ICEL, 2). Because this time of the year is often busy, many of us probably lose sight of the second aspect of the season. Especially on the First Sunday of Advent, the church encourages us to realize that this time is not simply about waiting for the coming of the Lord on Christmas Day. He does not disappear from our lives starting with the first week of Advent, only to return on Christmas Day (as is all too often depicted in parish nativity scenes). Christ is always mysteriously present among us, and we must always be ready for the fullness of His coming.

This season of hope requires that we work on the behalf of the faithful. Our role is not a passive one. We simply cannot sit back and wait for the coming of the Lord. The church challenges us to enter the season with the realization that compassionate acts of service need to be done as we await the second coming of the Lord.

A way to ready ourselves for the fulfillment of all God’s promises is by performing works of mercy and justice with enthusiasm and zeal. Our efforts are needed not only during Advent. They should be continual, occurring not only for a few days or weeks preceding Christmas. As the Advent season reminds us, God is at work in us even as we await the end of time and the coming of God’s kingdom of peace.

Tom King is student program coordinator in LMU’s Center for Service and Action.

Advent's Freedom

By Cecilia Gonzalez-Andrieu '80, '01
Too long have we been like those you do not rule, who do not bear your name. Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, with the mountains quaking before you. … (Isaiah 63:19)

I think I was about 8 years old when Christmas was suddenly outlawed in my native city of Havana by the officially atheist government. To children, it meant a slow and painful loss of the sweet memories of Christmases past, while the grown-ups silently feared that eventually no one would remember anything of who we once had been. Yet, in churches and homes, Advent remained a moment of waiting and expectation in the midst of hunger and squalor, for a blazing star to light up our lives. My sisters and I would often huddle in our balcony at night looking up at the dark and lovely sky and tell each other in hushed tones that someone would come from there. Perhaps the Three Wise Men really did live on a star, and then there would be Christmas again, with its nativity scenes, food, music, colored lights and freedom.

In time, we left Cuba, and our Advents full of anguished waiting continued on the other side of the sea: waiting for our father to be allowed to come, waiting to see grandparents, who died before we could kiss them again. Waiting, always waiting. I wept the day Pope John Paul II negotiated on our behalf for Christmas to be allowed again, three decades later.

Advent is so real when you have no freedom; it is about wanting that awesome power of God to break in and rend the heavens to set you free. Perhaps the Advent of the oppressed gets closer, much closer, to that earth-shaking first Advent. So much waiting … so much waiting still … dear Jesus, all over this weeping world … too long have we been like those you do not rule, Lord. … Come down and set us free.

Cecilia Gonzalez-Andrieu ’80, ’01 is assistant professor in the Department of Theological Studies.

The Season of Our Transformation

By Frances Gussenhoven, R.S.H.M.
Advent often is an enjoyable but hurried time, a time for parties, shopping and writing Christmas cards — all in the midst of our usual crowded days, of course. We may tell ourselves that these activities are hardly “spiritual.” But a closer look reveals that we are living Advent as a preparation for making others happy. Advent, thus, lifts us out of ourselves and focuses us on what we can do for others. We find ourselves becoming more expansive, more magnanimous and more generous, not only with our money but with our time, our planning and our presence.

On one hand, the benevolent feeling that pervades us during December may seem merely an outgrowth of consumer solicitations. But if we look closely at the liturgical readings for the season, we find that we are in sync with Isaiah and John the Baptist, and that, perhaps unconsciously, we are radiating an Advent spirituality — a spirituality of waiting, of expectancy.

We expect the heavens to “drop down dew and rain the Just One” (Isaiah 45.8), and we are ready to “make the rough ways straight” (Luke 3:5). The warmth of our hearts and of our loving makes it possible to imagine that “the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb” (Isaiah 11:6), and that “the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces” (Isaiah 25:8). As we heed John’s invitation to “prepare the way of the Lord” (Luke 3:4), we are, in fact, actualizing the idyllic dream pictured in Isaiah. We are living our expectations of the peace and joy that the birth of this promised baby will bring. We are moved by the generosity of the Father in giving us the gift of His Son; and, in our gratitude, we become more like the Father, loving and giving. This phenomenon may rightly be called “the Christmas spirit,” but the reality is even more profound — it is Advent spirituality flowing through us!

Frances Gussenhoven, R.S.H.M., is associate director of LMU’s Center for Ignatian Spirituality.