The reflection below is reprinted with permission from the Nov. 28 parish bulletin of St. Mary’s Church in Pompton Lakes, N.J., where Lawrence Anderson, OFM, is based.
As we begin the season of Advent, it is important to realize that it is a time of preparation for the coming of Jesus into our world as a human being. Advent is steeped in themes of conversion, redemption, preparation and hope.
Our culture tends to skip Advent and start celebrating Christmas after Thanksgiving (if not sooner). The season could be compared to the months before a child is born: there is excitement, wonder, joy and expectation. There is new life is in our midst, yet there is also hope and a desire to get things in order — the crib, the room, finances and many other details.
What do we need to get in order when we come into the presence of Jesus? In Luke 21: 28, we are told that when Jesus comes, we are to stand erect and raise our heads because redemption is at hand. What keeps us from standing tall, with our heads raised? I would venture to say that it is fear and despair.
Confronting Dark Fears
I recently came across this reflection written by my good friend Fr. John Yonkovig, pastor of St. Agnes Church in Lake Placid, N.Y.:
“As we look around our world, we might conclude that death has the upper hand, and because of that we live with fear and despair. Advent is the time we confront these dark fears in our lives. Fears of illness, financial fears, fear of failing in school, failure in friendships, fears of growing old and forgotten, fear of loneliness, marriage fears. … Our fears abound, and because of these fears, we often find ourselves in darkness.
“Financial fears often force us into the darkness of greed and selfishness, fear of failure pushes us to be dishonest, to cheat. The fear of loneliness often leads us into destructive relationships. You and I may not be afraid of the darkness like little children are, but I am terrified of the darkness in our society. That darkness is real and destructive. Darkness can be found in the outbreak of terrorism; darkness is found in the social evils of crime and drug abuse; darkness is found when countless numbers die of starvation everyday; darkness is found in a world where human rights are denied, where the human spirit is crushed. Darkness is found in the idle gossip among friends or the bitter words of government leaders.
“There is terrifying darkness in our world, and we often try to cover it over with the tinsel and lights of Christmas, but that won’t dispel the real darkness of our lives. Advent is the time to boldly confront the darkness of our lives … your life and my life. We don’t have to point fingers or look far … for there is darkness in each one of us. Solutions are not easy. However, this Advent should be the season of solutions and not the season of shopping sprees.”
Slowing Down to Recollect Values
So, how do we move from darkness to the light? How are we to tackle the fears each of us harbors? How do we keep from buying into the “Christmas as product” idea offered by our consumer culture? I believe that the Church’s secret defense against the generic holiday is Advent. The season of Advent provides us with the brakes to slow down, recollect our values and reflect on what we celebrate: The coming of Jesus into our world.
As we are in the midst of this Advent season, we need to honestly face our fears and reflect on what it is in our lives that keeps us from standing tall and showing our true face, a face created in the image and likeness of God. May we enter fully into the season of Advent with a sincere desire to move from that which dark into the light, from a sense of despair to one of hope and expectation. May that grace be ours.
— Fr. Larry, ordained in May 2010, is parochial vicar at St. Mary’s Parish.