Advent's Spiritual Pilgrimage
Meditating on the Longing for Christ
Advent spirituality is not a time to meditate on the actual birth of Christ. According to tradition, we ought not to sing Christmas carols until Christmas itself, for Advent is not a time to celebrate the birth of Jesus in the manger but a time to long for the coming of the Savior. The appropriate sense of this season is captured in the pleading of "O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel."
Because Advent is a time of longing for redemption, we should use the Advent season as a period to identify the matters from which we need to be redeemed. Identify whatever it is that seems to be holding you in its power: Take a piece of paper and write at the top, "Powers that hold me in their grip." Then begin to list everything that you can think of from which you would like to be set free. These powers may be bad habits, undesirable relationships, a job that is stifling and unrewarding, a vice such as a bad temper, jealousy, envy, or dishonesty, or any blockage to living by the spirit of joy, temperance, or generosity. Whatever it may be, commit it to the one who comes to set the prisoners free, turn it over to Christ in prayer, and ask the one who is to come into your life to take this problem up into himself.
There is one more matter that is important in this discipline, however. If you would truly turn this issue over to Christ, the decision must come from the insidefrom the heart and the will. You must purpose it. One of our greatest problems is that we make our decisions intellectually without recourse to the deeper side of our personality. Obviously the mind must be engaged in our decisions, but decisions of life that are primarily formed in the mind without the pain of a gut-wrenching longing that results in sleepless nights and moments of deep anxiety are too often dismissed with the wave of the hand or a rationalization that seems intelligent and acceptable. In your prayer, plead and petition the God who is coming in Christ to touch you on the inside and to birth in you an anxious and heavy longing to be redeemed from the power that holds you in its grip. Then and only then will Christ come to be born in your heart.
Meditating on the Advent of Christ in Our Lives
In Advent spirituality we are also called on to meditate on the birthing of Christ in our hearts. In this matter we are dealing with the conversion of life, the movement away from the old life lived under the power of evil to the new life lived in the power of the Holy Spirit. True conversion is a turning from one way of life to another. Christ calls us to be converted to him, to make him the pattern of our lives, to make our living and dying a living and dying in him. This can only be accomplished as we completely submit to him and live our lives in respect to his paschal mystery and by the example he left for us to follow.
Advent is a time to review once again where our faith is placed and how our lives are lived. Trust in Jesus is not merely a onetime act but a continuous state of being, a moment-by-moment existence in Christ. It is a daily turning from a life lived for self to a life lived in tune with the power of the Spirit who continually calls us to be like Jesus.
Some people who have lived particularly wild lives find the contrast between their old way of life and their new way of life to be dramatic and vivid. This was certainly the experience of St. Paul, whose dramatic conversion resulted in an about-face. But for many the transfer of allegiance to Christ and to the way of life he calls us to emulate is quieter and less discernible. Many of us who have been reared in Christian homes and nurtured in the faith are not able to point with certainty to the precise moment of conversion. Whether we come into the faith through a stormy and cataclysmic experience or were parented into Christ is not the real issue. What is at stake during Advent is an assessment of our current state of faith and living and our commitment to keep on living in the hope to which we have been called.