As a child, I used to look forward to Christmas with extreme eagerness. In those days the pre-Christmas, shopping season was more or less standardized as the month or so between Thanksgiving and Christmas itself. To me then, that time of waiting seemed to stretch on forever. Today, the pre-Christmas season is, if anything, even longer. On the other hand, however, one of the corollaries of growing older is how much more quickly time seems to pass. It is hard believe that it’s Advent again and that another year is rapidly reaching its end! As the ancient Roman poet Virgil famously put it, Tempus fugit – “Time flies.” (What Vergil actually said was Sed fugit interea fugit irreparabile tempus, singula dum capti circumvectamur amore, which means something like, "But meanwhile it flees. Time flees irretrievably, while we wander around, captivated by our love of passing things.")
Advent, which begins tomorrow tonight, is largely about time. Be vigilant at all times, Jesus says, and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man (Luke 21:36). Advent tries to take us out of our ordinary preoccupations with the passing details of our daily lives (important though they may be in themselves) and focus us on the bigger picture – graphically captured by the image of the end of time. Of course, there is nothing we can do about the end of time. It’s what happens at that end of time that matters and that we are able to prepare for – the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ (for which we pray every day at Mass).
Advent recalls our memory of Christ’s 1st Coming (which we celebrate at Christmas) to focus our attention on Christ’s 2nd Coming (for which we are waiting). Advent recalls the joy of Christ’s 1st Coming at Christmas to focus our hope (our “blessed hope”) for Christ’s 2nd Coming (his full and final Advent). Meanwhile, Advent captures the experience of where we are now – in this in-between time – between Christmas and the End.
So Jesus’ instructions to us are less about the End than about the Now – what we need to be doing now in order to be the people we hope to be at the end. The point is not about trying to make discoveries about the future of the universe, but rather to discover – through the signs we experience in the here and now – that our redemption really is at hand. The Advent Wreath is a folkloric custom which signifies the intersection of eternity (represented by the circular wreath) and time (represented by the four candles), which happened in the Incarnation, when the Son of God came down from heaven, and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man.
This “Year of Faith,” when we are reflecting more fully upon the meaning of the words of the Creed, Advent invites us to take those words to heart and cause them to infuse those “passing details of our daily lives” with deeper meaning and confident hope.