Well, here we are less than two days before the Christmas season starts and at the end of Advent. Now, I really have to ask myself “where did the Advent season go?” Sure, I knew Advent was coming. Before Halloween was over, stores were selling Christmas decorations, so the gem of the Christian Tradition that is Advent had to be coming as well. Yet, since the first week of November, I’ve been running one of the longest marathons of my life. While taking 6 graduate courses at once (this is NOT recommended), I also chose to attend both the Call to Action Conference and the SOA/WHINSEC Vigil at Ft. Benning, Georgia held only two weeks apart and a collective 36 hours roundtrip of driving on top of the marvelous and life-changing activities in between. Following that, I had to write about 200 pages worth of research papers, study for and take my final exams, and devote time to the candidates and catechumens in my parish’s RCIA program which I coordinate. With all of that, I have unfortunately not had the chance I usually do to reflect on and enjoy our Advent season. My prayer life has been reduced to “God, thank-you for your many gifts…” as I collapse into an exhausted sleep nearly every night. This is not the way I have prepared for the celebration of the Incarnation ever before in my life, and I hope not to again in the future, but I certainly have gained some needed insight this year.
I have always loved the Advent Season because we get to hold both our past and future in our hands at the same time. With the darkest days of the year forcing us inside, we are offered a time to reflect back on the joys and sorrows of the year as well as the mystery of God become human nearly 2000 years ago. We then get the opportunity to revel in our lives with God today and prepare the way for the future coming of Christ and the Kin-dom of God.
On Gaudete Sunday, the St. Louis NextGen Faith Sharing group gathered, and while we were sharing a bit about how our Advents were each going this year, I began thinking about the past Advents of my life. I am so thankful for the ghosts of Advents Past because they allow me to uncover the many meanings of Advent 2008 and the advents that may come as we await our future in God.
As a child, my diocese used blue candles instead of purple to remember the aspect of Advent in which we are all called to travel with Mary, the first Theotokos—“God bearer,” through whom we learn the lesson of saying “yes” to God, and praising and thanking our Creator for the blessing of the Incarnation. We are all then called to bring Christ into the world through our own actions and words. In the fourth grade, I may have played the Angel Gabriel in the Christmas pageant at school which taught me to preach the Gospel, but I began the lesson of being a theotokos in spending several days in Advents past volunteering with one of my local anti-poverty organizations.
I learned the lesson preached by both the Prophet Isaiah and John the Baptist during my first year of college. I sang for the 9 PM Mass as a part of the Chapel Choir Ensemble, and we had prepared some traditional and contemporary pieces for the first Sunday of Advent. At the last minute, our conductor chose to turn the lights out in the chapel and send Andy, our long-haired, peace loving, Catholic hippie tenor up to the balcony to welcome in the Advent season by being a voice in the wilderness singing “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord” from Godspell. Sure, it might have been a little theatrical, but it struck a spiritual chord within me that comes back every first Sunday of Advent. During this season and throughout our lives, we are called to prepare ourselves and the world for the coming of Christ in our own lives, and we are also to be like Isaiah, John and Andy by helping others understand the importance of Christ’s presence and work today. We are surrounded by the wilderness, and whether we live on a farm in Iowa or in the heart of New York City, we must be that voice crying out Emmanuel—“God with Us”.
Advent 2008 has been a lesson in truly being present to the people around me even when I have a list of things to do that has never been so long. Though I may not have been able to devote as much time as I would have liked to the people around me or to my God, this Advent taught me to cherish even the small opportunities I am given. Since we never know when the time is coming, and just in case there are no more Advents, I have done my best to be here now in the brief moments of this advent. If there are ghosts of Advents future, I hope they will offer me the opportunity to be present, watchful, and give me more time to devote to this preparation season.
May the end of Advent and this Christmas season encourage us all to live this difficult and most blessed Christian life throughout the year. Peace be with you!
Becky Schwantes, a Minnesota native, is currently a Master of Social Work candidate at Washington University in St. Louis. She earned her M.A. in Theology from the University of Notre Dame in 2008 and has worked as a parish faith formation minister, social worker and in college campus ministry. Becky also holds a B.A. in Theology and Social Work with a minor is Social Justice and Peace Studies from the University of Portland, Oregon. Her primary areas of interest are Christian Social Ethics, Eco-Feminist Theology, Mental Health and issues of Aging. In her free time, she enjoys traveling the world, walking labyrinths, singing, and laughing with friends. Her favorite saints are Francis de Sales and Jane de Chantal.