Somewhere between Thanksgiving and my good intentions, Advent blurred into five days before Christmas. It began well, and the first candle was lit on the Sunday after Thanksgiving…..a prayer said over the wreath waiting in the kitchen.
I hummed “O Come O Come Emmanuel” while decorating the tree.
The second Sunday came and went and one day my 5-year-old granddaughter asked why the pink candle hadn’t been lit for Gaudete Sunday. Yes. She is five. I looked at the wreath and felt that pang of melancholy at never making it to the second or third weeks of Advent. Each year it seems, I replace just a single candle.
My intentions were numerous. I had planned to renew my Marian consecration, to pray a novena, to attend daily Mass, weekly Adoration, to volunteer more; but somehow Shingles and Lyme disease treatment found me, along with the business of appointments, assignments, shopping, baking, and everything, but preparing my heart to welcome the coming of the King.
One of the issues with Advent is that it gets consumed by Christmas. The truth is, of course that Advent indicates the coming of Christmas. But the kind of Christmas the liturgical period of Advent is meant to signal is not the Christmas we observe in this country. The secular Christmas is about the storing up of things. The Christmas to which Advent directs us is about being emptied, so we can become satiated.
Advent directs us to the spirituality of emptiness, of enough, of a barren, but quenched soul. Advent reveals to us, the essentials of life and commercial Christmas points to its superfluities.
The two great liturgical seasons of the church year, Advent and Lent, are about very different things. Advent is not “a little Lent.” Advent is not a penitential period. Advent comes to trigger consciousness, not to provoke our consciences.
Lent reminds us who we are and who we are not and Advent reminds us who God is and who we are meant to be. Advent is about the opulence of vacuity.
The Jesus “who did not cling to being God,” but is like us in all things, models what most of us take the greater part of our lives to learn: how to “be ourselves.” The divinity who comes to us as an infant is the archetype of what it means to learn from life as we grow into who and what we’re meant to be. The God who comes without retinue or riches is the metaphor of a humility that requires us to remember how really small we are in the universe–and to come to the point where that is enough for us.
Advent is about the power of emptiness and the spiritual meaning of smallness.
When we have little to begin with, we have even less to lose. We know, then, that we don’t have all the ideas or all of the answers. It means that we have nothing to fight over and even less to boast about in life. We become full of potential.
When we know who we really are, when we present no disguises and display no vanity, when we are honest both with ourselves and with others, we are free to be ourselves. We have no image to maintain, no lies to gild in an exaggerated world.
We become full of integrity.
When we learn to live with the basics rather than to hoard what does not belong to us, we can never be made bereft by the loss of life’s little baubles because we never depended on them in the first place. We become full of contentment.
When we recognize our own limitations, we need never fear failure. Then we can’t possibly be destroyed by losing because we never anointed ourselves entitled to win. We become full of confidence.
Finally, when Advent permeates our souls, we come to understand that small is not nothing and empty is not bereft. To be small is to need, to depend on the other. Smallness bonds us to the rest of the human race and frees us from the arrogant isolation that kills both the body and the soul. To be empty is to be available inside to attend to something other than the self. We become full of the blessings of life.
Then, emptied out by the awareness of our own smallness, we may have the compassion to identify with those whose emptiness, whose poverty of spirit and sparseness of life is unintentional. Then, we may be able to become full human beings ourselves, full of compassion and full of consciousness.
An Advent spent in thoughtful reflection on the power of emptiness and the meaning of smallness puts everything else in perspective. Most of all, ourselves. Or, as Isaiah put it, “The eyes of the arrogant man will be humbled and the pride of men brought low.”
Perhaps the season did not escape after all…….