Advent is my favorite time in the liturgical year. For other people, I am sure it is probably Christmas or Easter, but for me those feasts never live up to expectations.
Part of it, I am sure, is psychological -- my inability to enjoy the moment but rather my predisposition to think about what’s next. When I go to an art museum, I try to sit contemplatively in front of a painting but no matter the masterwork, after a couple of minutes I am ready to move on.
That is probably why I like Advent. Advent looks to the future. It is all about what’s next. It looks toward Christmas but even more toward the coming of Christ again. Christ’s epiphany, rather than Christmas, is really the conclusion of Advent.
Because Advent is about the future, it is also about hope. Today, when we think about the future, it can be very depressing: global warming, terrorism, war, economic uncertainty, sickness, old age, death.
But the message of Advent is one of hope -- salvation is at hand! Justice will triumph. Peace will be established. The downtrodden will be raised up.
I especially like the daily Scripture readings during Advent.
Tuesday of the first week of Advent, a reading from Isaiah:
He shall judge the poor with justice,
and decide aright for the land’s afflicted.
He shall strike the ruthless with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked.
Justice shall be the band around his waist,
and faithfulness a belt upon his hips.
Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the kid;
The calf and the young lion shall browse together,
with a little child to guide them.
The cow and the bear shall be neighbors,
together their young shall rest;
the lion shall eat hay like the ox.
The baby shall play by the cobra’s den,
and the child lay his hand on the adder’s lair.
There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain;
for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the LORD,
as water covers the sea.
The refrain of the responsorial psalm says it all:
Justice shall flourish in his time, and fullness of peace forever.
How our world needs justice and peace.
Pope Francis in his encyclical Laudato Si’ gives a stark warning about the consequences of what we are doing to the environment, but he does not despair. He has hope in the power of the Spirit, in the power of love. He has Advent hope, which is something our world needs today.
There are signs of hope in our world. Pope Francis is one, but so too are the millions of people who do their part trying to make the world a better place, with a smile, with a kind word, with a helping hand.
Advent is about the coming of the Lord. Will he come in our hearts and hands so that we continue his work of compassion and love, of justice and peace? This can only happen if we are open to hope, open to the Spirit.
The Scripture readings during Advent are full of hope. They are an antidote to the cynicism and despair so prevalent in our age. They are worth reading and reflection.
Decades ago, I wrote a column in which I encouraged people to "steal a missalette" so that they could read the Scripture readings at home. Today, that is not necessary. The daily readings are available online, through apps (iBreviary), and as podcasts (Daily Readings from the New American Bible).
Reading the daily Scripture readings is a wonderful way to nourish your spirit at any time of the year, but especially during Advent.
Come Lord Jesus, come.
[Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese is a senior analyst for NCR and author of Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church. His email address is email@example.com.]