Don’t let Christmas take you by surprise: lessons for Advent from the Church
The First Sunday of Advent 2022 is Nov. 27, exactly four weeks before the Sunday of Christmas this year, and while the Church provides this time to allow you to be caught by the joy of the Incarnation, you can be easily caught by surprise that it is Christmas. To help remedy this surprise, the Church provides songs, signs, and symbols to enter into the season of Advent more fruitfully.
Here are three ways the Church teaches us about the meaning of the season:
Many of the customary hymns for Advent highlight the movement of the soul toward what Pope Francis termed in a 2014 homily on Advent as a “horizon of hope.” No hymn epitomizes this better than “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” with its overtones of expectation and its mournful remorse over the state of man, captive to sin. The cultivation of hope and expectation is also seen in Advent hymns such as “O Come Divine Messiah” and “People Look East.”
The commingled darkness and hope that God will fulfill his promises, a theme characteristic of Advent, deepens with songs like the Spanish carol “Alepun.” The lyrics of “Alepun” move the faithful into an experience of waiting with a pregnant Blessed Virgin Mary while the rhythm and percussion evoke donkey hooves clattering across the plains of Israel to Bethlehem.
Advent is a season of penance marked by joy and, in many ways, a little Lent. This is why the colors of purple and pink — with their ties to penance and the Lord’s Passion, and the joy of Laetare Sunday when Lent is almost over — are the colors of Advent. But did you know that the deep purple of Advent has a blue hue to it to teach the faithful in symbol about the Marian heart of the season?
The lack of church decor also teaches about the penitential nature of the season. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, the lack of flowers on the altar, the restrained use of instruments, and the absence of the resounding and angelic Gloria all lead to a deliberate emptiness.
The emptiness will first be filled on the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, and, later, flowers will be allowed on Gaudete Sunday as the first expression of the festivity of the coming Christmas.
Saints and solemnities
Following the solemnity of Christ the King, Advent begins with echoes of the power of Christ coming in glory before it stretches forward to the humble beginnings of the mystery of the Incarnation.
This means there is a certain focus the Church helps people enter into even in the way the liturgical calendar is marked by very few memorials of saints: just five in the course of the four weeks, most of whom are deeply embedded in the celebration of and preparation for Christmas in various countries.
St. Nicholas is the best known of the five: the generous bishop whose gifts inspired generations of lore and giving. St. Lucy, whose desire to give charity to prisoners in the catacombs meant she wore candles in her hair to free her hands, is another well-known saint with connections to Christmas whom we celebrate in Advent.
The Church also shows forth the importance of Mary during this season, which places her Immaculate Conception on Dec. 8, a solemnity and holy day of obligation, at the very beginning of the liturgical year. Combined with the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe on Dec. 12, the Church shows forth what God has wrought in a soul full of grace — a foreshadowing of the entire mystery of salvation in one soul.
Though there are many more signs and symbols that communicate the meaning of Advent, these can assist you as you enter the season of expectation, building anticipation for the celebration of Christmas so it doesn’t catch you by surprise.
By Kelsey Wicks, Catholic News Agency