Advent: Ever Ancient, Ever New

By Jennifer Gregory Miller (bio - articles - email) | Nov 30, 2018

A new Liturgical Year begins on Sunday and begins with the season of Advent. The Liturgical Year repeats, again and again and again. The season of Advent holds before us the threefold focus of Jesus: contemplating Him in history at Bethlehem, receiving Him in mystery in the Eucharist and our personal preparation for His Second Coming and majesty at Parousia.

At first glance it seems there is nothing new to see here. The Liturgy repeats itself. The readings are the same. Some of our family Advent customs and traditions repeat year after year. As a writer it would be great to come up with something unique every Advent to inspire my readers, but this year it is actually the repetition and sameness that inspires me. Nothing new or flashy is being presented; I am called to be the one that is new. I need to look upon the Advent liturgy with new and fresh eyes, mind and heart. Have I interiorly grown since the last year when I heard the Collect cry to “Stir Up” or the haunting call of the “O Antiphons” for Christ to come? Have I been moving in an upward direction since last year, so that hearing the Advent liturgy and readings pricks a different need and area to work on inside me?

The words of St. Augustine “Ever Ancient, Ever New” are the words that play in my head. I am not stuck in rut just because I do the same traditions, or read the same readings from before. That is, I’m not stuck if I’m different inside spiritually. That is where my “newness” for Advent will be. May my heart be freshly prepared soil so that the seed of Advent can grow into a new harvest.

Renewed Interior Inspires the Exterior

I am not implying that I will just be the passive receiver, that if my interior is different my reception of Advent will be complete. I found a wonderful book entitled The Dews of Tabor by Rev. Bernard Strasser, O.S.B., that had a rousing meditation on Advent, focusing on our work of Advent:

If, however, we wish to experience the full joy, the deepest blessing of Advent, we must look beyond the agreeable glow of pleasure which the romance and intimacy of this season always call forth so effectively. We must not be content with surface sentiment; we must strike deeper and seriously labor to grasp the soul of this blessed time.

We must live Advent, not merely celebrate it. We must love this season, and our life must be the expression of our innermost yearning for God’s Kingdom and His justice, of our burning desire for redemption, strengthened and deepened during each succeeding Advent.

Advent is not a romantic religious interlude, nor merely a time of pleasant dreaming or soul-stirring melodies, nor yet an atmosphere of an emotional spiritual spree, made respectable by coloring it liturgically violet. Advent, to have meaning and reality, must be an interior orientation of the soul, a serious desire for the Redeemer and the fulness of His grace; it must be a fertile seeking after the Sovereign King Who shall come to convert and renew, to redeem and enrapture, to unite more intimately to Himself individual souls and all mankind.

Advent is a constant spur and pressing summons to cooperate in the realization of God’s Kingdom in and about us. Christ, the Son of God, the “God with us,” comes again in holy mystery upon this earth on Christmas Day. He comes not merely to be contemplated in pious transports; he comes to rule. Very clearly does the Church tell us this in the Feast of the Epiphany, the original Feast of Christ the King.... (Exposition Press, 1960, pp. 15-16 ).

It is not key to living Advent whether or not the Advent wreath is lighted, or whether Christmas decorations are hung right after Thanksgiving or held off until the actual beginning of Christmas. If we don’t follow the Jesse Tree or pray the St. Andrew’s Prayer 15 times a day or the O Antiphons are not recognized in a creative and festive way at home those won’t affect our Advent. Whether we do all these traditions and devotions will not alter the actual work assignment of Advent. Father Strasser is not eliminating the joy of the season, but he reminds us of the work that is in the interior. This is the new work, behind the scenes that should happen every Advent. This is how I should be that “new” person interiorly, and the work I do this Advent I will grow and be different and changed for the next liturgical season:

Very plainly and emphatically does St. John the Baptist, the great preacher of Advent, stress this fact.... He compares the Advent work of a Christian with the difficult and tedious work of road-building in mountainous country. Such a job entails the leveling of mountains, the raising of steep embankments, the filling of low places, the boring of tunnels, the building of bridges—all this to avoid crooked and uneven roads or to make them passable. Without exertion and without struggle against grave difficulties, without hard work and without an occasional serious belaboring of, and deep incision into, the sick soul, there can be no true Advent, no coming of the Redeemer.

The high mountain which must first of all be leveled is the proud, unruly ego: our self-love, vanity, self-complacency, and our sensuality.

The valleys that must be filled our the dearth of good works, lack of contrition, lack of works of penance and of true fraternal charity; they are the many acts of unkindness and injustice in our daily lives. Dishonesty and duplicity, cunning, deceit and hypocrisy, lying and treachery—these are the crooked ways that must be made straight for the Lord. And the roughness of our soul was brought on by our lack of consideration, by our brutality, stubbornness and obstinate insistence with our “rights.” In the one soul, a sinful inclination, a dalliance with sinful occasion must be rooted out; in another, an ancient enmity or dangerous friendship must be given up. This one must restore property unlawfully acquired; the other must make good slanderous remarks against his neighbor. Such work and much more is demanded of us if we are to “live Advent.”

Longing for God’s Coming

The Christmas longing commonly associated with Advent is of course good and indeed necessary. It is only proper that we make our own the ardent expectation, the holy longing for the coming of God’s Kingdom, which missal and breviary so movingly proclaim. That darkness which today presses so heavily on humanity must be dispelled by the light of the Advent candles—but we ourselves must be the living candles of Advent in word and deed, by example and prayer, that others by our light may find the way and be warmed at the hearth of genuine Christian charity.

We ourselves must be so keenly aware of the darkness of the world without Christ that we feel called upon to assist others to emerge into the light. By prayers and sacrifice, we must lead them to the Kingdom of light, to the wellsprings of joy that flow with such abundance in His Church. This presupposes that we ourselves have become filled to overflowing with light and love, joy and grace....(Ibid., 17-18)

Advent is the old and the new. As we approach the “sameness” of the season, may our hearts be ready and new so we may hear with new ears and see with new eyes and work with renewed freshness.

For Further Advent Reading:

Feast Days of Advent

Jesse Tree

Advent Pondering

LITURGICAL DAYS IN ADVENT:

Feast of St. Andrew, Apostle and Martyr

December 6, St. Nicholas:

Immaculate Conception, December 8

St. Juan Diego, December 9 and Our Lady of Guadalupe, December 12

O Antiphons: December 17-23

Jennifer Gregory Miller is an experienced homemaker, mother, CGS catechist and authority on living the liturgical year. She is the primary developer of CatholicCulture.org’s liturgical year section. See full bio.

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