Fall: Winter, Spring, Summer
The cycles of nature coincide with the cycles of life. Those of you living today have relived these cycles countless times. We are presently experiencing Fall and as the days grow colder it will become Winter. Winter loses its chill and Spring arrives and then Spring moves into Summer and then the cycle begins over again. The changing of the seasons is more dramatic in some parts of our country than in others. We adjust our life style, our family traditions, and our way of celebrating according to the seasons and each season has a beauty and a meaning all its own.
Spring speaks to us of new birth. In the East growing up, as snow began to melt and the ground thawed, we children eagerly awaited the first signs of new life poking through the somewhat still cold earth. It was a thrill to see the first bud pushing itself up through the ground and reaching for the sun. I vividly remember going into the woods with my cousins and we would excitedly see who could find the first wild rose growing up over a rock or the first lady slipper under foot.
Summer was life in full bloom, light, energy, strength, growth and activity. It was a time of stretching and growing, a time of freedom from the structured existence of school and study. It was a time of discovery, trips to the beach, the thrill of sand pulling away from between our toes as a wave came in and receded back to the ocean. It was finding a bird’s nest and the thrill of hearing little chirps of baby birds begging to be fed. It was finding where your mother cat hid her kittens so you could bring them all back home.
Fall was the season of changing beauty, harvest, cool nights, and anticipation. It was heaping up leaves so that you could run and jump into them. It was watching squirrels and chipmunks hide their stash of acorns. It also marked the return to ordinary schedules and school as nature faced her decline. But it was also the thrill of Thanksgiving and the smells coming from the kitchen and the gathering of family members.
Winter denoted the death of growing seasons, cold blankets of snow covering a frozen earth, slumbering animals tucked in their dens, the struggle for survival, the beauty of snowflakes drifting lazily to the ground. It was waking up and looking out the window to see everything covered in the purity of white. It was Jack Frost painting patterns on the window panes and huge icicles hanging from tree branches and house eaves.
Each season offers us opportunity to reflect on how we live our lives. To be conscious of the seasons of nature is to also be conscious of the stages of our lives. How often do we hear the phrase, “This year went so quickly” or “Where has the time gone?” Nature invites us to live each year, each season, each day with all the fullness that God has placed in it. As we move from childhood to adulthood, we often leave behind the wonder and amazement that filled our lives as youngsters, the ability to look at snow and see its crystal pristine beauty and not simply something to shovel off our paths. As adults there is a practical side to our lives that can often smother the wonder of childhood and yet both must coexist in us. We can so easily get caught up in everyday living that we choke the beauty out of our lives. To live is not simply to get through or to survive a day, a week, a month or even a year, or to survive Christmas, or whatever the case may be, but to look with the eyes of a child who sees something for the first time, to look with wonder and to bask in the delight of that wonder. Life isn’t only about survival; it is about contemplation – to see the face of God before me; to walk into His creation and view it from within; to find the hidden messages of God that He strews everywhere on a daily basis.
Advent as a Liturgical Season
The liturgical seasons flow from the seasons of nature and of our lives revealing to us the purpose of our existence. The liturgical year begins with Advent, the subject of our present focus. It prepares us for the revelation of God-with-us, which will become visible in the Christmas season through Christ’s birth. As the earth lay sleeping in the chilly throes of death, a light breaks forth and in the silence of that night, the Word leapt down from heaven.
Advent commences the Christmas cycle – it means we begin to scan the horizon, eagerly pressing forward, as a child presses his face against a window pane, to catch a glimpse of “He who is to come”. Advent means “coming” or “arrival”. It denotes a point in history when Jesus was born in Bethlehem over 2000 years ago. It marks likewise a future moment when on December 25, 2015, we will await His birth mystically and an even more future moment at the end of time when He will return in the Second Coming. It also indicates each present moment when He is born again in us in grace. What form will this grace take? This is where our Advent sacrifice and penance become visible. Perhaps it is in the patience and concern shown to a family member, or in the outreach to a stranger or friend in need. It may be to a lonely elderly person or to a suffering neighbor. These are the gift-wrapped packages that Jesus leaves around for us – each package containing a grace meant for us, but until we see the package before us and open it, the grace is locked inside. We teach children to make sacrifices as gifts to the Baby Jesus during Advent and to perhaps lay a piece of straw in the manger for each sacrifice made. But as adults we have an even greater responsibility to respond to grace and to recognize the opportunities that lie before us. Advent is the reminder to slow down and welcome and receive whoever God puts before us. It is quite easy to look back in history and fault the innkeepers for not opening their doors to Mary and Joseph. They failed to recognize the God within Mary, who was knocking on the doors of their hearts. After all He was hidden within the body of a teenager. But what about ourselves? Do we recognize Christ when we He comes to us?
In Advent we experience expectation, anticipation, preparation, and longing. We want things to be set right. We want deliverance from monotony, suffering, anguish, trials, and worries. But joy can be experienced even in the midst of trials. Part of our Advent journey is to allow God to lead. Our Lady must have experienced great anticipation and joy in view of the coming birth of Jesus, but she was not spared trial and hardship. She lived as a real person in a real moment of time. She was a member of a subjugated people under Roman domination. She prepared for the coming of the birth of her God and her Son always within the context of what God placed before her each day.
When we lose the sense of awe we fail to transcend the person, thing, or event before us. Life becomes an endless succession of days, a countless series of activities to complete, never-ending tasks to be performed. We get caught up in the hectic pace and busyness of life and the joy of doing what we are doing is slowly drained from us. In our liturgical seasons we fall prey to the frenzied tempo of commercialism. We lose the wonder of childhood and we look toward Christmas as one more thing to get over: shopping to finish, gifts to wrap, cards to write, meals to prepare, cookies to bake, rooms to decorate, etc. They are no longer activities to look forward to as cherished traditions we celebrate, labors of love, events that look to the manger, but last minute hurried tasks that steal the joy and amazement from our hearts. We see only the remnants of Christmas that mean one more clean-up job.
But then how do we take advantage of Advent to prepare for Christmas? Perhaps we have gotten too far away from why we have Christmas at all. It is after all Christ’s birthday. How can we make this the focus of everything we do in the days leading up to Christmas?
It is essential that we slow down and simplify. To slow down we need to take some time to reflect on what we do and why we do it. Is each one of our Christmas activities something that is done in a thoughtful and loving way? Can we simplify some of those activities so that we can truly enjoy them more? How many of our activities are actual Advent preparations for Christmas? How many of these activities spiritually prepare me or my family for the Birth of Jesus? Is Advent for me a Reason for the Season of Christmas?
There is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven. We must look with the eyes of faith, we must enter into God’s world and contemplate it from within, because it is only from that view that we will be able to recognize the messages and the signs that God send us. Christmas to be fully embraced needs Advent – a time of preparation – not an early Christmas that begins before or immediately after Thanksgiving!