By Deacon Randall Waguespack

Happy New Year! No, I am not a month early. This weekend we celebrate the First Sunday in Advent and the beginning of a new liturgical year. The word “Advent” comes from the Latin “adventus” meaning “a coming, approach, arrival” and is a time for us to prepare for the arrival of Christ within ourselves, in our families, and in our Church.

We tend to think of Advent only as the season in which we prepare for Christmas, or the First Coming of Christ. But it is important that we remember Advent is also a celebration in which we look forward to the Second Coming of Christ. Advent calls us to remember that Christ, Our Savior, has already been born, fulfilling the prophecies of the Old Testament. At the same time, Advent calls us to prepare ourselves for Christ’s Second Coming and our own personal judgement. In the Gospel reading this weekend, Jesus gives us a clear message to heed: “Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come.” As we begin this Advent Season, we should all be asking how we can prepare ourselves to meet Jesus face-to-face. How can we use this Advent to grow in our love of Christ and to deepen our relationship with him?

Last weekend Fr. Paul asked us the question: “Who or what guides your life?” Reflecting on this question might be a good way to prepare. What does it mean for you to get ready for Christmas? Is your Christmas focused on shopping, parties, or having the best decorations, or is it focused on preparing your heart and life for the coming of Christ? In general, what does your life revolve around? What is the first thing you do in the morning? Is your first thought to check your phone or is it thanking God for a new day? Do you remember to say grace before meals, or do you forget? Are your Sundays focused on God and family or do they revolve around sports? Are you using your gifts to serve others or only yourself? You get the idea. “Who or what guides your life?” If the answer is not God, use this Advent to direct yourself back to God.

Another great way to prepare for Advent is to establish rituals within your family that emphasize the true meaning of Christmas. One example would be lighting the Advent Wreath on each Sunday during Advent as a family, while talking about what it symbolizes. The Advent Wreath is a common symbol of the liturgical season. Its purpose is to literally light the way to the true Light of the World. The circular wreath, traditionally made of evergreen branches, represents God’s infinite and everlasting love for us. It holds four candles to light each Sunday of Advent.

The candle we light on the First Sunday of Advent represents “Hope” leading us to anticipate the birth of Christ. It is purple, symbolizing royalty. It is sometimes called the “Prophecy Candle,” to remind us of Isaiah’s foretelling of the birth of Our Savior and all the promises in the Old Testament that were fulfilled by the birth of Jesus. The candle we light on the Second Week of Advent, also purple, represents “Peace.” It is called the “Bethlehem Candle,” because it reminds us of Mary and Joseph’s journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem before Mary gave birth to Jesus. It builds on the meaning of the Prophecy Candle, recalling that after the division and destruction of the kingdom in the Old Testament, there will finally be Peace on Earth with the establishment of the New Kingdom of Christ. The candle we light on the Third Sunday represents “Joy” reminding us that as we approach Christmas, our joy should grow more and more. It brings us back to the joyful anticipation of the shepherds that journeyed to see Jesus in Bethlehem. The Third Sunday is also called “Gaudete Sunday” which means “rejoice and praise.” As we light the third candle we rejoice like the shepherds, so we call this candle the “Shepherd’s Candle.” Its color is rose, the liturgical color for joy. The candle we light on the Fourth Sunday of Advent represents “Love” to remind us of the ultimate love of God who sent his only Son for us. It is called the “Angel’s Candle.” Also colored purple, it leads us to await the new kingdom of God on Earth.

The reflecting on “Who or what guides your life?” and lighting the Advent Wreath as a family are just two examples of how to prepare for Christmas. I am sure you can come up with more, but whatever you choose to do, make sure it helps you to “Be watchful!” and to “Be alert!” remembering that this is what Advent is all about. Happy New Liturgical Year!