It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Advent?

At this time of year, a casual stroll through any local shopping center or public thoroughfare would likely leave us confused about the upcoming liturgical season. While Church rubrics call for bare altars and penitential violet, and an atmosphere of sober waiting and expectation, virtually every public space is already being festooned in garlands and lights, featuring a musical background ranging from the crooning of Bing Crosby, to the feel-good beat of Mariah Carey.

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It would be easy to dismiss the gradual infiltration of Christmas into the late weeks of November as a shameless commercial effort to stimulate our Christmas spending habits. The premature ornaments, wreaths, and reindeer can be comfortable targets for us to denounce as superficial sentimentality, while we watch and pray by candlelight.

Our culture is certainly in need of reminder about the importance of silence and sobriety in preparation for our commemoration of Christ's incarnation. However, we would be remiss to simply ignore the cultural current upon which Christmas arrives in 21st century America. Even if the contemporary urge to launch into Christmas before Advent is being driven by commercial motives, perhaps these only work because they're tapping into something deeper.

Maybe we are hooked so easily by twinkling lights and echoing bells, and not as inclined towards the austerities of Advent, because we've already dealt with so much dreariness and mundane routineness, and have already lived in the shadows for so much of the year, that we will dance at the earliest sound of "Silver Bells."

If nothing that is genuinely human is foreign to us, as the Second Vatican Council once said, then we can possibly find a way to embrace the desire for early holiday cheer, while being true to that need for quiet reflection that is so essential to the season of Advent. Over the next few weeks, we will experience an exterior contrast between the solemnity of our churches and the gaudiness of our streets, malls, and workplaces. In a Salesian way, it is not a matter of rejecting one exterior environment or keeping the other, but in keeping the same interior spirit as we move between them.

Exactly how we do this will be up to us as individuals. We could make a resolution in our prayer to make a special effort to spend time with the marginalized, whether the be in the streets, our churches, or our families, so that they can share in the festive togetherness of the season. Maybe our encounters with someone at a Christmas party, our children's holiday concert, or in line at the checkout counter, can be a place to invite them to share in the quiet spaces and opportunities for prayer that our Church offers during Advent. Whatever we choose to do, our hope is that we can bring about a unity between the Church and the world as we prepare for this Christmas, a unity for which Christ himself was born.