" Advent also takes on a penitential character, to 'prepare the way of Lord,' knocking down the mountains and filling in the valleys, removing all obstacles that keep us from God and God from us. "
Many people would call the Advent season their favorite: it lasts only four weeks, it looks ahead to Christmas, it is quiet, watchful, inspiring, and filled with anticipation. Central to Advent is a feeling of hope, that despite the darkness of the season, a shining light awaits us: “The people who sit in darkness have seen a great light; on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death, light has arisen” (Mt 4:16).

Advent is a time to hope for something not only good but great. Think big: not just a better world but a new world; not just greater prosperity but freedom from all want; not just a world without war but a world with the fullness of peace; not just self-improvement but an entirely new existence.

Advent is a time to await the Messiah, who will usher in a new age of harmony, peace, and reconciliation — between God and humanity, among people of all nations, and with nature itself. “Behold, now is an acceptable time; now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor 6:2).

The beautiful prophecies we read from the Old Testament set the stage for our longing and anticipation — with one big difference: our hopes have been fulfilled! Jesus has come in history, planting the seed of God’s Kingdom and promising a future that will restore Eden itself. This Jesus also tells us that God is not far from us, that God loves all of us, that God wishes to be one with us in the Incarnation. The joy of this revelation marks both the Advent and the Christmas seasons. Is it any wonder we love this time?

The church teaches that Advent has a two-fold character. First, it is a time of preparation for the solemnities of Christmas, in which the first coming of the Son of God is remembered and celebrated. Likewise, Advent is a time for our minds and hearts to look forward with joy to Christ’s second coming at the end of time. We live “in between” the first and second comings, a time of prayer and expectation for the arrival of our great King.

For this reason, Advent also takes on a penitential character, to “prepare the way of Lord,” knocking down the mountains and filling in the valleys, removing all obstacles that keep us from God and God from us. Considering this, the church asks us to be mindful of the season, wearing purple vestments at Mass and keeping the music and decorations moderate in preparation for the child who was born in a stable. Such preparation makes Christmas all the more grand, with its bright lights, joyous music, floral displays, and beautiful nativity scenes.

Most parishes will have on display a beautiful nativity scene. Be sure to spend some time before it, to meditate on the great mystery of the Word made flesh. This is also a good opportunity to share the scene with your children, pointing out the Christ child, his mother Mary, with Joseph her spouse, and rejoice: “For a child is born to us, a son is given us: they name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.”

Msgr. Brennan, a priest in senior status, is a former pastor, seminary rector and a canon lawyer who serves on the Presbyteral Council executive committee.