Advent is one of the major preparation times in the liturgical cycle. At the end of the four weeks we celebrate and remember the gift of the incarnation, Christ’s coming into the world 2,000 years ago at Bethlehem. And so we prepare to remember and to give thanks.
But this first part of Advent invites us to reflect on something else: the end time. While we need to be ready, we don’t know the day or the hour when all time will cease and God will “lead us by the light of his glory.” And beyond that (and probably before that very final day) there will be an end time of this life for each of us as well.
So in thinking of that second aspect of Advent — endings and new beginnings — how might we prepare? St. Paul suggested to the Philippians that they trust what God was already doing in them, that they continue to learn to value what is really important in life, and that they be found “rich in the harvest of justice.” John the Baptist proclaimed to the people of his time that they prepare by a spirit of repentance and by smoothing out rough ways and leveling mountains for others, and by witnessing to the mercy and justice of God.
The church’s liturgy helps us prepare for the end time by the Scriptures chosen for this season, in the themes of the hymns we sing, with the more somber color purple, by the evergreen wreath symbolizing eternal life and the increasing light breaking into the darkness with additional candles each week. Many parishes also have a “giving tree” to help us remember the call to be God’s justice.
Many times we think of the virtue of charity, rather than justice, as we donate or share with others. I admit my own bias on this, but I think we sometimes confuse charity and justice. The virtue of justice calls us to give to each person what he or she is due. In these very difficult economic times, people are struggling to find a job and to provide the basic necessities of life. People have a right to these things, and so our sharing to help them is about justice.
This Advent, as we try to overcome the call to buy what we don’t need and to spend more than we can afford, perhaps we can find ways to be the justice (or compassion) of God for others. Donations of food and time, money and paper products are always needed at local shelters. We can help with parish food baskets and Christmas gifts for poorer families or contribute to hurricane relief efforts. It may also mean spending extra time with family, visiting sick or elderly friends and neighbors, cooking a meal and sharing it. In all this, it’s not just about the things or actions we give but about the relationship and connection.
Whether we call it justice or charity, it is time or money that we share, it is with the end time or the present in mind. May we be found rich in the harvest of justice at the coming of our God.
Sr. Rehrauer is the diocesan director of Evangelization, Living Justice and Worship.