On Sunday the 29th of November, the Church will begin to celebrate the season of Advent and the beginning of the new liturgical year.
When the word Advent starts circulating, it is for many the start of the Christmas countdown. The decorations if not already up, will be dusted off and put in their places; conversations will have the question “Have you started the shopping yet?” And the panic will be on when you hear the words, “Ah sure, I am nearly done at this stage!” And we must not forget that the Cadbury Advent Calendars will be coming out to count how many days until Santa will be coming! All of these are just the small things that are a part of the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season. But the question remains, what is it really all about?
The word Advent means ‘coming’ in Latin. Jesus is coming and Advent is the season of preparation for his arrival. As we journey through this season, it is important to take some time out of the hustle and bustle to not only focus on where you are in the world, but also to take time and focus on where are you in your journey of faith. Advent is the time where we look at ourselves and ask the following questions: Are we as the Church ready for the coming of Christ? What sort of preparations should I make to prepare myself for the coming of Christ? Is my heart ready to be opened and renewed by the good news that Christ the King is on his way?
We may never find the answers to these questions, but the awareness that they are there, helps us to deal with them and carry them with us as we journey through the Advent season. Perhaps some of the things that will help us are prayer and reflection. Taking the time out to pray and reflect on the day or the week that we have just had is very important when it comes to addressing these questions and discerning what Advent is really all about. Taking that time to be alone with God, is also the way in which our hearts can be filled with hope, love, peace and joy and it can give us the courage to be that sense of hope, love, peace and joy to others in this world.
The year 2020 has been a very challenging, worrying and stressful year for all. It is a year that is marked with great uncertainty and the light that shines from any sense of hope can at times seem very dim. Yet, it is important to remember that the light never burns out; it keeps on shining.
As we celebrate Advent and Christmas, may we try our very best to be there for others who may find the season to be a very difficult and challenging time to get through. Jesus is the light of the world; can we be a light in someone else’s world? And, just as the light of the star was able to guide the Wise Men to find Jesus (Matthew 2:9), may we during Advent allow that same light to guide our hearts to Christ.
Wherever you are, and whatever COVID-19 restrictions you may face, I hope that you all can enjoy the spirit of the season as much as possible.
Niamh McLaughlin is studying for a Higher diploma in Pastoral Theology at Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth. As part of the course, Niamh is on placement with the Derry Diocesan Catechetical Centre.