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Advent: A Time For Serious Changes

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by Anthony Gittins, C.S.Sp. | November 23, 2011

When we were children, waiting - for a birthday, for Christmas, perhaps for a new baby sister or brother - could seem interminable. Later in life, schedules can become so crowded that we can't easily to find the time to prepare adequately for some imminent event. But it's not only age that determines attitudes; it's often the way we understand time itself. For many, time has become just another commodity, and the language shows that very well: we waste, save, spend, gain or lose time, just like we do with money. When time is just another limited resource, we treat it economically.

What does this have to do with Advent? A whole lot. Advent is a period of time, but our attitude to it says much about the way we actually live the faith we profess. The days immediately before Advent are a kind of end-time: they mark the dying of the liturgical year, as a period marks the end of a sentence, paragraph, or page (in our life's journey). Then the first Sunday of Advent is like New Year's Day: a beginning, like a clean new page on which new words or paragraphs can be written and all manner of things might happen, even wonderful things.

Oddly, perhaps, the beginning of the liturgical year and the end of the chronological year occur within weeks of each other. But that might remind us that our whole lives are spent in transition: as one thing ends, another begins. Or, as T.S. Eliot puts it so cryptically and well: "What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from."

The readings [for the First Sunday of Advent] offer encouragement and insight into how to approach Advent and prepare for the birth of Jesus. From the Entrance antiphon ("To you I lift up my soul, O my God. In you have I trusted") to the final words of the Gospel ("Keep awake!"), we are invited to turn again, to reflect on what, and who, sustains us: the God of Mary and Joseph and Jesus, who is the very key to the meaning of our lives. And as we do so, we are reminded to stay alert, to remain awake, because we simply cannot afford to miss what is slowly but surely coming to be. We have four weeks to prepare actively, not simply to wait, and surely not to drift off to sleep. So we beg, with the urgency of an Isaiah that God will "tear open the heavens and come down"; and with the passionate hope of Paul, we believe that "God will also strengthen [us] to the end, [for] God is faithful."

After all the Advents that have slipped past us for want of time or attention, let's go out to meet this one purposefully; let's prepare for Christmas by re-focusing our lives on the things that matter. And as we think of the birth or Emmanuel, "God with us," let's notice some of the other refugees, migrants or and homeless families rather closer to us than the Holy Family at the dawn of the Christian era, and let's do to and for them, what we piously imagine we would have done if that Family had stopped at our Inn, looking for compassion. There is time. We have time. But Advent is not just about waiting. It is about engaging with an event that changed the world, because the world needs it to happen again, and very soon.

 

This article was originally published at www.ctu.edu.

Image: iStock

Author information Anthony Gittins, C.S.Sp.

Professor of Mission and Culture
M.A., M.A., Ph.D., University of Edinburgh; Study: University of Cambridge

Professor Dr. Anthony Gittins has taught Theology and Cultural Anthropology at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago since 1984. He has held the Bishop Ford Chair of Mission Theology, and is currently Professor of Theology and Culture. 

Born in Manchester (England) and a member of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit (Spiritans) he was ordained a Roman Catholic priest in 1967. He subsequently earned M.A.s in both Linguistics and Social Anthropology, and later a Ph.D. in Social Anthropology from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. In the 1988 and 1991 he was a Visiting Research Scholar at the University of Cambridge and then the University of Oxford, England.
 
In his teaching, Gittins touches the interface between the social sciences and theological disciplines. He has taught, lectured, offered workshops or given retreats in more than thirty countries from Africa to the Pacific. He has extensive experience as a hospital chaplain in Albany, NY, where he worked during Summers between 1969 and 2000. For the past twenty-five years he has with and among homeless women on the streets of Chicago and in a shelter. For seven of those years he was part of Genesis House – a community where women struggle to escape from prostitution.
 
Before coming to Chicago in 1984, Gittins worked for almost a decade among the Mende people of Sierra Leone, West Africa, as a missionary pastor, linguist and ethnographer. Since then he has done missionary anthropological work in a number of countries beyond Africa, including Pakistan, the Trobriand Islands and the Republic of Kiribati in the Central Pacific.
 
He has an adopted, multi-ethnic family: a daughter and four grandchildren.
 
He is the author of fifteen books on theological and anthropological topics, and on mission and spirituality. Most recently, Ministry At The Margins: Strategy and Spirituality for Mission (Orbis, 2002); A Presence That Disturbs: A Call to Radical Discipleship (Liguori, 2002); Come, Follow Me: The Commandments of Jesus (Liguori, 2004); Where There’s Hope, There’s Life. Women’s Stories and Practical Theology (Liguori, 2006); and Called to be Sent: Co-Missioned as Disciples Today (Liguori, 2008).
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