This Sunday the Church will begin the celebration of Advent, the season in which we prepare for the coming of Jesus Christ at Christmas.
All of us know that Christmas is coming—we are bombarded with the signs and sounds of Christmas already. But knowing that Christmas is coming, and being prepared for it, are two different things. The Church’s Advent season is meant to be an opportunity to open our hearts to Jesus Christ—who comes small and quietly into our lives, but who can transform everything about us.
Our hearts are made for the worship of God. We are designed for unity with him. And Advent is meant to help us recognize that part of ourselves which longs for God, which needs him, and which is built for unity with him.
In 1986, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, who became Pope Benedict XVI, wrote that: “Advent’s intention is to awaken the most profound and basic emotional memory within us, namely, the memory of the God who became a child. This is a healing memory; it brings hope. The purpose of the Church’s year is continually to rehearse her great history of memories, to awaken the heart’s memory so that it can discern the star of hope. … It is the beautiful task of Advent to awaken in all of us memories of goodness and thus to open doors of hope.”
Advent will only prepare us for Christ—and open within us the doors of hope—if we allow it to.
At Christmas, Jesus Christ is present as a small, quiet, unassuming child—a beautiful newborn. Those who expected the Messiah to arrive triumphantly as a worldly king, with great fanfare, missed the Messiah. Only those who were seeking goodness, who hoped in the goodness of God, encountered the Christ Child.
All of us were made for unity with Jesus Christ. But in our own lives, we miss the presence of Jesus Christ if we focus only on the loud, pervasive noise of Christmas.
If we want to discover him at Christmas, we need to look for Jesus with joyful expectation. And this means that to encounter Christ, we must find a way to quiet ourselves, and to hope for redemption in the presence of a small, quiet voice.
The answer, of course, to opening the doors of hope, is pursuing during Advent a deeper life of prayer and sacrifice. During Advent, the Church recommends to all Catholics that we attend Mass more frequently, celebrate the sacrament of penance, spend time in eucharistic adoration, and spend time with Scripture. I pray that Catholics in the Archdiocese of Denver might spend time with the Book of Isaiah, which so beautifully anticipates Christ.
I hope, most especially, that you will spend time in prayer with your family. The family, the domestic church, is the place where we encounter Christ at Christmas—because we encounter him in the Holy Family. Every family is called to model the openness, the generosity, and the listening of the Holy Family.
And so I pray that Advent will become a time when your family commits to reading Scripture together, meditating on the rosary together, and remembering the journey of the Holy Family to Bethlehem. As you follow their journey, your own family will also sojourn to the place where Christ was born and made present to the world.
There is an ancient Advent hymn of the Church I love, the “Conditor alme siderum” (“Creator of the stars at night”). Its opening verse prays: “Creator of the stars of night/thy people’s everlasting light/Jesu, Redeemer, save us all/and hear thy servants when they call.”
Jesus will always hear us when we call. I pray that we, too, will hear him and cooperate with him. Advent, a time of quiet hope in truth and goodness, will allow us to. If we let it, during Advent the Church will, as Pope Benedict XVI reflected, “take us by the hand and—in the image of the Blessed Virgin Mary— express her motherhood by allowing us to experience the joyful expectation of the coming of the Lord, who embraces us all in his love that saves and consoles.”