Here we are again at the beginning of another Advent. Now we begin a new Church year and a new cycle of readings from the Lectionary. It seems that the key word in any new year is “cycle” because we advance chronologically toward a new year; however, paradoxically, the Church’s time cannot be measured chronologically.
Indeed, the liturgical season of Advent looks backward in commemorating the birth of Christ. At the same time, Advent points us to the future, not the beginning of 2018 but to the second Coming of Christ. In a certain way, then, we are suspended in time, remembering how God intervened in our salvation history through the sending of his only Son and anticipating this Son’s return in glory.
This notion of “cycle” is expressed especially through the tradition of the Advent Wreath. The wreath is circular, which, in a way, underscores how God’s love has no beginning, no end. While God is infinite and eternal, we are finite creatures. Since we have material bodies, time is the measure of motion and the gauge through which we map out our past, our present and our future.
Although calendars remind us of our slavery to time, all of us are called to the eternal — which is a vocation to full communion with God. This tension between time and eternity, between being and becoming is very much symbolized by the placement of the candles within the wreath. Each candle has a beginning and an end, as do our mortal bodies. However, because we are more than bodies, because we are incarnate spirits, made in the image and likeness of God, we are able to transcend the finitude of physical death. Moreover, like the candles in the wreath, so we, by virtue of our Baptism, are invited to participate in the life of God.
In the midst of the hustle and bustle of our world, where clocks and commerce propel us into a frenzy, where the media counts the remaining days to Christmas, we may feel anxious, as we rush through what ideally should be activities of leisure, and gladness, such as: praying, singing carols, writing Christmas cards, buying gifts, baking cookies and decorating the house.
In a sense, then, we are like those candles enveloped by the wreath. When we are feeling good about life, we are like
the candles lit. But when something happens to pull us down, we feel like an unlit candle, desperately looking for the light of God’s love and presence.
As such, we are a people struggling to maintain our belief in a God whose presence we do not always sense. Yet hope, this grace from God, which keeps us afl oat with the conviction that one way or another, despite our personal suffering — despite the effect of time on our bodies — and the aches and pain which accompany this, we will survive!
Yes, Advent assures us that, when Jesus returns in glory, we will emerge from the darkness of earthly existence which clouds our vision of the divine. One day, when we least expect it, we will open our eyes to the eternal light of Christ and the freedom of the children of God!
Father Comandini is the managing editor of “The Catholic Spirit.”