Sunday, 29 November 2009

Advent - Longing for Christ

Mother Maria-Michael has posted a reflection - longer than the ones she normally posts - for the beginning of Advent. I am happy to commend it to you, as I was enriched through reading it this morning. The post has the title: Advent - Longing for Christ.

More by accident than by deliberate intention, I went to Mass yesterday evening - and so caught the beginning of Advent at its very beginning, so to speak. Father's homily reflected on the meaning of the word Advent - a coming, that of Christ, in the historical past and in the future that we await - and on how we might live this time of waiting for the coming of Christ.

I was most struck, though, by Father's asking this question: why is Advent four weeks long? And why is the fourth week not really a week, but a few days, depending on exactly what day of the week turns out to be 25th December? Father suggested that the answer to the first of these questions was related to a cosmological vision (no, he didn't use that wording in his homily, but it was what he was referring to) in which the length of time from the creation to the coming of Jesus in human flesh was understood to be 4 000 years.  I didn't quite catch whether this was a Bible based cosmology or a patristic cosmology, so I can't give you the footnote. Each of the four weeks of Advent is then seen as representing 1 000 years between creation and the Incarnation. Father suggested that the "short" fourth week acts as a reminder to us that we do not know the exact hour of the second coming of Christ; it reminds us of the need to "stay awake", and prompts us to use the season of Advent to renew our wakefulness before the Lord.

Clearly, knowing today what science has been able to discover about the history of the universe, we do not believe in the 4 000 years. But the idea that the time of Advent, that is, the duration of the season, has a representative meaning; that the length of Advent is a sign in the Liturgical sense; this, I think is still a useful idea. Advent is an extended season in the Liturgy; it is not just a vigil the evening before the feast.

Particularly for those of us who have an education and formation strongly influenced by contemporary science, seeing Advent as "representative time" helps to give a meaning to time itself. If Advent represents the time between the creation and the coming of Christ in Bethlehem, then time is being given a meaning in relation to the mystery of the Incarnation seen as the destiny of the physical creation. And if Advent represents the time between the Ascension and the second coming of Christ in his glory - the time in which we are at present living - then it is giving meaning to time in relation to eternity, in relation to our looking forward to eternal life with the Trinity and all the saints in heaven, when all things will be one in Christ.


Unknown said...

Found this here:

What is Advent?
Advent marks the beginning of the Christmas season and the Church year for most Western churches. The word "Advent" means "arrival" or "coming" in Latin and represents the approach of Christ's birth (and fulfillment of the prophecies about that event) and the awaiting of Christ's second coming. It is composed of the four Sundays before Christmas day, starting on the Sunday closest to November 30th, which is the feast day of St. Andrew the Apostle, and ending on Christmas. Because Christmas is on a different day from year to year, Advent may last anywhere from 22 to 28 days.

In the 4th and 5th centuries, Advent was the preparation for the "Epiphany" rather than Christmas. (Epiphany is celebrated in early January and focuses on various events in Jesus' life such as the visits of the magi, His baptism and miracles.) It was also a time for new Christians to be baptized and welcomed into the church, while members of the church examined their hearts and focused on penance. Religious leaders exhorted the people to prepare for the feast of Christmas by fasting. Some say that early documents show that those leaders treated Advent as a second Lent.

Sometime in 6th century Rome, the focus of Advent shifted to the second coming of Christ. In the 9th century, Pope St. Nicholas reduced the duration of Advent from six weeks to the four weeks we currently observe. And finally, sometime in the middle ages--approximately the 1500's--an additional focus on the anticipation before Christ's birth was added to that of His second coming. For a more in-depth perspective, visit The History of Advent.

I tried to click the link at the end but kept finding myself at a site advetising printers!

Patricius said...

Very interesting. I love Advent and was under the impression that its shortness was related to the fact that "we know neither the day nor the hour" when Our Lord will return. I do think your priest is mistaken regarding the date of the Creation -bear with me! The idea that the Creation took place 4004 BC is a late- protestant- computation, clearly in error because of their shortened Old Testament! In the Roman Martyrology the Lord's birth was given as occurring 5,999 (or was it 5,199? -must check) years after the Creation.