John the Baptist acts as a good model for Advent, when the theme of repentance is prevalent. CNS photo/Octavio Duran

John the Baptist sets the tone for season

By  Fr. Yaw Acheampong
  • November 30, 2019

As the calendar flips to December and we enter the Advent season, thoughts naturally turn to Christmas.

Advent is the start of the new Liturgical Year (this year Cycle A), a season of preparation on so many levels, spiritually and otherwise.

By the time we even begin Advent on Dec. 1, almost every store has brought out its Christmas merchandise to start the shopping season. We begin to hear the bells ringing in the malls and even the singing of Christmas carols in stores. 

This means that at the very early stage of our Advent journey, we may be tempted to solely engage in the activities that are associated with the preparation for Christmas in our secular world — shopping, home decoration, gift-wrapping and writing of Christmas cards. 

There is nothing wrong with spending some of our time on these activities, but it is very important that we keep our eyes fixed on the Lord to help us spiritually prepare to celebrate Christmas. Advent invites us in a special way to reflect on what the season means to us as followers of Christ. 

We need to look deep within our hearts to rediscover the spiritual understanding of the true meaning of Advent. We need to renew our strong desire to encounter God by demonstrating an attitude of repentance. 

The season of Advent can be described as a period of waiting during which we seek ways towards spiritual renewal. How can we make use of this waiting period to get ready to celebrate Christmas? Where do we start? 

In light of the penitential nature of Advent, this might be a good time to turn to John the Baptist for inspiration on making the best use of the season. 

John the Baptist is described in the Gospels as “a child called to be a prophet of the Most High to go before the Lord to prepare His way” (Luke 1). The Gospel of Matthew describes the ministry of John the Baptist by focusing on the theme of transformation: repentance and bearing of good fruits through genuine repentance (Chapter 3). 

By reflecting on the theme of transformation as a spiritual exercise we may redirect our steps towards Christ. When we strive to respond to the call to change our ways by embracing what John the Baptist preached about, we may encounter a more spiritual path to Christmas. 

The celebration of Confession, learning to move from our past ways to a new beginning of hope and to live as followers of Christ — all these are actions that are in the spirit of Advent. In the apostolic exhortation Christus Vivit (Christ is Alive), Pope Francis explains that our personal vocation as disciples is more than the expression of what we do: “It is a path guiding our many efforts and actions towards service to others” (255).

When we strive to respond to the call by John the Baptist during this period of waiting, we can learn to be of service to others. When we serve we may prepare others for the coming of the Lord on Christmas Day. 

It is interesting to note that sometimes we use stickers with messages “keep Christ in Christmas” as a way of counteracting the effects of the attitude of secularism. 

However, to make the season of Advent Christ-centred we need to do more. We need to change our attitude to life and allow the Spirit to “guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:79). 

Advent calls us to surrender ourselves and be transformed by the Spirit of love of God. 

Have a spirit-filled Advent season!   

(Fr. Acheampong is pastor at Our Lady of Peace Parish in Toronto.)

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