Advent and Beyond
Just when you thought there would not be any more changes for a while, the church year changes on us! Happy New Year! Welcome to the season of Advent.
Derived from a Latin root, Advent means “coming” or “arrival.” Lasting only four weeks, it is traditionally a season of quiet and joyful expectancy. In spite of the fact that the trees are bare, we do not lose hope. Advent has a two-fold character: a time of preparation for the festival of the Nativity when the first coming of God’s Son to the world is recalled and a period of reflection pointing us to Christ’s second coming at the end of time. This is a season for prophecy, calling us to conversion, preparation and a constant sense of watchfulness.
One way of entering into Advent is envisioning what it would be like for an alien to visit America in the first weeks of December. He or she would likely be impressed by what a religious people we are. Shopping malls, stores, streets and homes are all richly decorated for a religious feast, as spiritual carols fill the winter air from giant loudspeakers. The poor and the homeless who are usually overlooked throughout the year are cared for with charity and generosity. The religious feast of Christmas, and all that is connected with it, saturates our society in this time before December 25.
But if that space visitor were to report back that Americans are a churchgoing people, it would not be totally accurate. In a recent poll, slightly over half of Americans regularly attended church over a six month period, other than religious holidays, weddings or funerals. Of those who do not go to church, 48% are providing religious education for their children, 63% believe that the bible is the word of God, 31% say that religion is “very important” in their lives and 75% revealed that they occasionally pray to God. Considering these rather high percentages of religious feelings and attitudes, they were asked why they did not attend church.
Most responded that churches were not living up to their responsibilities! This season of prophecy, conversion, preparation and watchfulness (and in St. Martin-in-the-Fields case, transition), Advent is a good time for those of us who are part of this faith community to ask ourselves, “What indeed are our responsibilities? How can I best use the spiritual gifts I have been given by God for the building up of the Body of Christ and reaching out beyond our fields? What is it that those who do not go to church see us failing to perform?”
Being a part of this faith community must require responsibilities beyond financial support and attending church, beyond prayer and supporting action against immoral practices. But what exactly is missing? A good Advent exercise would be to take a few minutes to seek an answer to that question. This will certainly help in building our profile. Living answers are required from each one of us if Advent is indeed to be a time of reform and renewal of our faith life.
Watch, wait and listen.
the wondrous gift is given.”
I would be silent now,
that we may receive
the gift we need
so we may become
the gift others need.”