In the secular world, particularly in retail preparations for Christmas start in August which means the manufacturers start a whole lot earlier. We see Christmas lights and trees erected in our city centres, late night shopping and even free parking in some areas all designed to encourage us to spend our hard earned cash.
In the Christian sphere, we prepare for Christmas through Advent, a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas. The term Advent means ‘coming’. But as Jesus came 2,000 years ago, what ‘coming’ are we really preparing for now?
Yes, of course we are preparing to commemorate the birth of Jesus which was a step towards our own salvation through his death on a cross and resurrection. But we should also be preparing, staying awake if you like, for the second coming, for that moment when Jesus will return triumphantly, sort the wheat from the chaff and take his faithful with him to his heavenly Father for eternity.
Our own end may come before the end of the world, so we must be prepared for that too and Advent is a timely reminder of our need for the sacraments, particularly Reconciliation or Confession as it is also called. It is a time to repent, to turn back to God, to put our lives back on the narrow road to holiness.
We cannot do this alone, so Advent is also a time to return to the habit of prayer, talking to God, presenting ourselves to him and listening.
We live in extraordinary times. Half the world is starving, the other half overweight. Many live under the cloud of war while others make plans for war. Disease and famine exist in many places as well as horrific crimes being perpetrated not just by those labelled as terrorists but by others who consider themselves civilised. Anyone familiar with the Book of Revelation may well wonder whether the end times are indeed upon us or whether there is worse to come. Who knows? God!
In the meantime, we must prepare ourselves. Receive the sacraments, return to Mass if you haven’t been for a long time; pray for those in need; feed the hungry, visit the lonely, comfort the sick and the dying. Do it for them, do it for Jesus and do it for the salvation of your own soul.
And don’t stop once Christmas has passed.