Bro Patrick I. Esenwah
The Catholic Dictionary (2010, pp 9-10) edited by Donald Attwater defined Advent “as the season leading up to the birth of Jesus on December 25, beginning on Sunday nearest St Andrew’s Day (November 30).This Sunday is the first day of the church’s year”. The season of Advent is four weeks divided into two parts, both emphasising on the coming (advent, arrival) of Jesus. The first part begins from first Sunday to 16th December while the second part begins from the 17th to 24th December.
The readings of the liturgy in the first part focus on the second coming of the Lord at the end of time, the first coming being His humble birth at Bethlehem in Judaea. The second part of the season focuses on the immediate preparation of Christmas, His coming into human history at the time of His birth at Bethlehem (The Essential Catholic Handbook, 1997, edited by Sean Finnegan, p123). It is the period of expectancy of the birth of Jesus. This liturgical season features joy, hope, repentance, expectation and coming of a new born king that would bring salvation to the whole world (CCC 524).
For the sake of knowledge and enlightenment and according to Kevin O’Donnell (A New Approach Christianity, 2012, p55) “no one knows exactly when Jesus was born but it was believed to be in or before 4 BCE. Matthew says that King Herod the Great was still alive at that time and died in 4 BCE”. He opined that “if the story of the shepherd is anything to go by Jesus must have been born in spring, when the shepherds were supposed to be in the field watching their flocks, during lambing season.”
Kevin O’Donnell also stated that “the date December 25 was the date of celebrating a Roman festival called SATURNALIA, which celebrated the victory of the sun gods over winter (birthday of the sun-god). The Roman Empire accepted Christianity as its official religion in the fourth century CE. To stop the worship of the sun gods they had to make December 25 as the official birthday of Jesus. Christmas was not celebrated before that time”. No wonder some sects of the Christendom, up till now, do not celebrate Christmas on December 25. Happily, majority of people world over, Christians and non-Christians alike celebrate Christmas on December 25 of every year. Glory Be To Jesus!
Whatever the case, this controversy does not diminish the importance of the birth and early life of Jesus as foretold in the Old Testament book of Isaiah 7:14 which says “a virgin will become pregnant and have a son and he will be called Immanuel, meaning God is with us”. This was narrated in the New Testament books of Mt 1:18 to 2:12 and Lk 1:26 to 2:20. It is to be noted that the word “Christ” in Greek means “Saviour”. Hence, “Jesus Christ” means “Jesus the Saviour”.
PREPARATION FOR CHRISTMAS
The Advent is a season of spiritual house-cleaning but we tend to dwell more on the physical. During this period, we physically clean our houses, decorate and redecorate them, inclusive of lightings and Christmas trees for visitors and guests to mark the season, make trips to family, relations, friends/well-wishers, have re-union, increased church activities, Christmas carols and cantatas, exchange of cards, gifts, text and goodwill messages, pleasantries, shopping etc. Not to talk of the children who engage in Christmas plays/drama at schools, use and explosion of fireworks like bisco, knock-out, bangers, crackers and toy guns to herald the Christmas.
The church has therefore, created the Advent season in its liturgical calendar to give us the opportunity to clean our hearts (spiritual house-cleaning), make room for and be ready for the divine guest, Jesus.
In celebrating the Sunday Eucharist in Advent, The Daily Missal, 2013, Paulines Publication Africa, pp26-27, highlights “that the playing of musical instruments and the floral decorations of the altar should be moderate and that liturgical dances should be omitted. Of course, except on Gaudete Sunday (“Rejoice” Sunday on 3rd Sunday of Advent). This restraint conveys the character of the season of Advent and prepares us for the joy of the nativity of the Lord at Christmas. The liturgical colour of Advent is violet or purple. The altar frontals, the lectern, banners, vestments, dresses of altar servers and other ministers should reflect these colours.” Gloria in excelsis is also omitted from mass during this season (Catholic Dictionary, p10).
The Catholic Dictionary, p10, also indicated that “the law of fasting and abstinence in Advent is no longer in force. The solemn nuptial blessing may not be given at marriages from the beginning of Advent to December 25 inclusive, except by the permission of the Ordinary.”.
The gospels of Matthew and Luke vividly expressed what we should encounter during the season of Advent through images, pictures and scriptures that depict Jesus as saviour of the world as well as God’s plan of salvation for mankind.
These were expressed in various passages as:
- The birth of John the Baptist (Lk1:11-25)
- Song/Canticle of Zachariah - Benedictus (Lk 1:68-79) ---“Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel. He has visited His people and redeemed them etc.,”
- Annunciation to Mary by Angel Gabriel (Lk 1:35-38)
- The dreams of Joseph (Mt 1:20-25)
- The angels greeting Mary as a favoured one (Lk 1:29-34)
- Grace of the Holy Spirit overshadowing Mary to say “ YES” (Lk 1:35)
- The infant Jesus is born to create a new world that has no end (Lk2:7)
- Angels appearing to the shepherds in the field and telling them the good news that Christ has been born (Lk 2:8-20)
to be Continued Next Edition