Today’s Advent Reading:
USCCB – November 27th

Happy New Year!

Wait what? Didn’t we just finish with Thanksgiving?

Well, yes, and 2017 is still thirty-five days away, but today marks the first day of the new Christian liturgical year. So, again, Happy New Year! Today is the first day of the Christian liturgical season known as Advent. The word Advent comes from a Latin word meaning “coming”; the season refers to the coming of Jesus Christ to the earthly world. Like the coming of Christ, the purpose of Advent is two-fold. First, Advent is a time to commemorate the anticipation leading up to the first coming of Christ, which occurred about 2,016 years ago. At the same time, Advent is also a time to ready ourselves for the second coming of Christ, which will occur at some unknown time.

In today’s First Reading, we are invited, “Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!” (Isaiah 2:5). This we will do in abundance at Christmas, when the whole world receives the light of the world, Jesus. First, though, we must acknowledge this season of Advent, this preparation for Christmas, this new year. Advent as a “preparation for Christmas” seems to align with the first purpose of Advent, to commemorate the anticipation leading up to the first coming of Christ, the very first Christmas. When I think of Advent merely as a “preparation for Christmas,” I find that the season reminds me much of the contemporaneous secular, commercialized “holiday season.” We might spend much of the time during Advent buying or making gifts for friends and family, baking cookies, decorating our homes, sending greeting cards, and listening to holiday music. If engaging in these “logistical” activities is the only way that we prepare for Christmas, then we may find ourselves exhausted by all of the hustle and bustle come December 25th.

Oppositely, Advent as the beginning of a “new year” seems to align more closely with the second purpose of Advent, to ready ourselves for the second coming of Christ. It is this second coming of Christ that is the focus of today’s Second Reading and Gospel. Romans 13:11 instructs us to “awake from sleep,” while Matthew 24:42 reminds us to “stay awake,” in order to be prepared for Christ’s second coming. Romans offers examples of how we ought not to behave knowing that Christ will come again. Romans 13:13-14 instructs us to “conduct ourselves properly as in the day, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in promiscuity and lust, not in rivalry and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the desires of the flesh.” The instructions in Romans remind me somewhat of the resolutions that we might make on January 1st, the “secular” new year. We might resolve to eat healthier, to exercise more, to give more to charity, to not procrastinate, or to be more engaged in our daily conversations and interactions with other people. Our New Year’s resolutions and the instructions in Romans both aim to, in the most general of terms, make us better people. As the beginning of the Christian liturgical season, Advent is our “spiritual” new year and so it offers us the opportunity to make spiritual resolutions, to engage in spiritual Advent activities. Examples might include reading the Bible, praying, attending a church service, going to Confession, donating some time or material goods to support a worthy cause, and even taking just a few minutes of every day to reflect on the beauty and goodness of the season. As important and necessary as these spiritual activities are, they alone would not complete the Advent season. With solely these spiritual activities, we would miss out on the goodness that comes from completing the aforementioned “logistical” Advent activities, for, in their own ways, they, too, prepare us in regards to Christ’s comings.

Thus, it seems that to have the most fulfilling Advent, to acknowledge the season to the fullest extent, it is necessary, first, that we understand the season’s two-fold purpose. Then, it is necessary that we recognize that we can achieve its two-fold purpose only when we view Advent as both a “preparation for Christmas” and as the beginning of a “new year,” as a time to ready ourselves both logistically to commemorate Christ’s first coming at Christmas and spiritually for Christ’s second coming at some unknown time. To offer tangible examples of Advent activities to fulfill both of the season’s purposes, I would like to share one of each of my own favorite “logistical” and “spiritual” Advent activities.

My favorite “logistical” Advent activity is decorating my house for Christmas, or rather, attempting to help my mom, a decorating mastermind, to decorate. On the piano, we place an army of nutcrackers. In the family room, we stand up a Christmas tree full of ornaments collected over the years. In the dining room, we set up a nativity scene. In the windows facing our street, we light artificial candles each night.

Another prominent decoration that we display at the very beginning of Advent is our family’s Advent wreath, which contains four candles of the colors purple, purple, pink, and purple. A popular Christian tradition is to light the corresponding number of candles on each Sunday of Advent. Today, the first Sunday of Advent, my family will light one of the purple candles. Next Sunday, the second Sunday of Advent, my family will light two of the purple candles. The following Sunday, the third Sunday of Advent, my family will light two of the purple candles and the pink candle. The fourth and final Sunday of Advent, my family will light three purple candles and the pink candle. The lighting of the Advent wreath candles is my favorite “spiritual” Advent activity. The light of the candles reminds me that, soon, we will commemorate Christ’s first coming at Christmas; we will commemorate the coming of Jesus, the light of the world. The light of the candles also reminds me that the season of Advent is an opportunity to illuminate the current states of my own soul, conscience, prayer life, and almsgiving in order to reflect on where there is room for improvement; with this illumination and reflection, I can determine how best to make improvements in these areas in order to be better prepared for Christ’s eventual second coming.

I, and the entirety of the Harvard Ichthus staff, invite you to comment with your own favorite “logistical” and “spiritual” Advent activities. We also invite you to follow the Harvard Ichthus’ Advent blog series as a way to engage in a “spiritual” Advent activity as we reflect on the daily biblical readings throughout the Advent season.

Happy Advent!

Marina Spinelli ’18 is a Junior in Eliot House studying Human Evolutionary Biology.