This year, the Advent season is the shortest it can be, we just celebrate the Fourth Sunday of Advent as Christmas Day is on the following Monday. This gives us a challenge, as essentially our Advent is only three weeks long. Out of the two great penitential seasons of the liturgical year, Advent and Lent, I always find Advent the most challenging. Lent seems to lend itself to the time of the year and you can really enter into the spirit of the season over the six weeks. Advent seems to be at odds with the world, Christmas in secular society has already begun by mid-November.

For me, Advent poses the challenge of really living in the moment, taking each day as it comes and using the church’s liturgy to guide me through the days. Advent consists of two parts; up to the 17th December, we spend time reflecting on the second coming of Christ, at the end times, when he will judge the living and the dead, the readings in the lectionary really reflect this. After this we move up a gear and turn our attention to the happenings some two thousand years ago, when God became human so that we could become more like God. This is marked especially in the liturgy by the choice of readings and by the wonderful O Antiphons, which accompany the Magnificat canticle at the celebration of Evening Prayer. They are also used as the Gospel Acclamations for Masses celebrated during those days too. We are told that the O Antiphons have a twofold importance. Each one highlights a title and attributes of the Messiah: O Sapientia (O Wisdom), O Adonai (O Lord), O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse), O Clavis David (O Key of David), O Oriens (O Rising Sun), O Rex Gentium (O King of Nations), and O Emmanuel. Each one also refers to the prophecy of Isaiah of the coming of the Messiah.

A few of years ago, I was introduced to a practice, which has accompanied my Advent journey ever since. It is a complete reading of the Gospel of Luke. Conveniently, Luke is divided into 24 chapters so from the 1st December (two days before Advent 2023 officially begins!), and the challenge is to read and reflect on one chapter each day, finishing on Christmas Eve. By reading through this wonderful Gospel, we can wake up on Christmas Day, knowing who and why we celebrate. I have found this undertaking really nourishes my Advent journey and helps me understand the real meaning of the season. Will you try it this year?

So, there are many practices during Advent which can help us pray the season well and prepare us for the celebration of Christmas. During the season, I think it is no mistake that we also celebrate two of the great feasts of the church’s year. In many ways these two figures can be called the patron saints of Advent. The first takes place on the 8th December, when we celebrate the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Mary, whose story will be told in the latter part of Advent, was pivotal in the incarnation as it was her fiat or ‘Yes’ to God which God used to send his Son into the world. ‘Mary, overshadowed by the spirit of God, is the Virgin of the new heart, who gave a human face to the Word made flesh,’ (Carmelite Constitutions §27). Mary is the great woman of faith who kept and pondered in her heart the events and words of the Lord. She can teach us day after day to say our own ‘Yes’ to God, through our own meditation on God’s word. 

A week later, on the 14th December, the Church and the Carmelites celebrates the feast of St John of the Cross – I won’t say too much about him as I’m sure he’ll be reflected upon in due course, but with regard to Advent, John teaches us that Advent is a time of hope, of faith, and of expansion of the heart’s desire to receive Christ: A time of waiting for and waiting in love. St John of the Cross lived for the “adventus” (the coming/arrival) of his greatest love, Jesus, but knowing his limitations and letting himself be moulded by the power of God.

So, as you can see there are many things, which we can do to enrich the observance of this most holy season. As we begin this Advent, let us journey together, nourished by God’s word, as it nourished Blessed Virgin Mary and St John of the Cross, but also by staying in the moment as much as possible. That way we can live Advent to the full and be totally prepared to celebrate the coming of the Christ child when Christmas Day dawns.

Gerard Walsh, O.Carm 

Weekly Reflections

Steps on the Journey - weekly Reflections from Carmel
Scroll to Top