What does Advent mean to me?
Truth be told, I believe this is the first time I’ve seriously pondered this question. Perhaps I’ll start with what Christmas meant to me instead.
Our little family tradition involved having Christmas Eve dinner together at home, getting dressed up and taking a picture by our Christmas tree, followed by the vigil mass, and then coming home to open presents with a bit of cake. Christmas Day itself would usually be a celebration with the extended family – grandparents, aunties, uncles and cousins.
Christmas was about family to me. And we shared our love through gifts, feasting and merry making. But I guess I took all that for granted, because it was only when I lost it, did I then miss it.
Christmas became a season which I did not look forward to; and Advent was pretty much meaningless to me.
We kids (my sister and I) grew up and wanted to do our own things. My parents joined the choir and were busy with carolling and choir duties; my sister moved overseas; so it was just me. Thankfully though I was not totally alone, as I at least had friends to attend mass with. But of course, traditions did not remain the same.
When Dad passed away in 2011, Christmas at home became an even quieter and lonelier affair. We did not bother with any Christmas decorations; Sis was overseas; Mum busied herself even further with the choir, such that our (extended) family could only get together on Boxing Day; and I often allowed myself to wallow in self-pity.
Christmas became a season which I did not look forward to; and Advent was pretty much meaningless to me. But I still made it a point to attend Christmas mass, even if I had not been going to church, or felt like God was completely absent in my life.
However in 2014, I was in a very broken state, and for the first time ever, I skipped Christmas mass. That simple act filled me with a lot of guilt and sorrow. It wasn’t enough for me to return to church fully, but I dare say it was a rather pivotal point.
Christmas of 2015 somehow took a turn for the better. Mum and I had a proper lunch together at home on Christmas Eve, a rarity for us; I shamelessly invited myself over to a friend’s house for Christmas Eve dinner so that I would not be alone, and her family was so welcoming; I went for midnight mass where my Mum’s choir was singing; and Mum even cleared her schedule so that we could celebrate with the extended family on Christmas Day itself, which we had not done in years. These little gestures meant so much to me, and I felt very blessed and grateful for such loving family and friends.
I vowed to go back to church regularly in 2016. Through God’s grace and providence, I attended the Conversion Experience Retreat in August 2016, and later joined Landings in February 2017. So here I am now, awaiting another Christmas, but this year, trying to contemplate Advent more faithfully, and for my first time, together with a Catholic community.
… best things in life are worth waiting for, and it teaches us the virtue of patience.
Which brings me back to the first question – what does Advent mean to me?
Advent is the gift of reflection and preparation, so that we can be more ready to welcome and receive Jesus.
It’s difficult to contemplate Advent when the rest of the secular world have started celebrating Christmas since November. I heard this in a homily the other day and it really struck me – we do not celebrate Easter during Lent, so why do we celebrate Christmas during Advent?
It is a reminder that the best things in life are worth waiting for, and it teaches us the virtue of patience.
Recently, I had to learn a hard lesson. Due to my impatience and temperaments, I lost a friendship, which was on its way of developing into something more, but I could not wait. In my callousness, I hurt not just the other party, but myself too. It made me realise that I was far from being Christ-like to others; how was I sharing the gift of Jesus through my words and actions?
Advent is also a time for reconciliation and forgiveness. I had the opportunity to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation twice this Advent. To some it might be excessive, but for me it was necessary. I needed to be reminded of God’s unending mercy and love. And He did not fail. He provided what I needed at the right time, not just through the priests I encountered, but also through friends and acquaintances. Even through being asked to write this post, God’s hand is in this too, as I’m forced to go through a deeper reflection.
It is another reminder for me to trust in God’s plans. As hard as that may be.
I share two different pictures of rainbows here. The first was taken in my parents’ bedroom, a year plus after Dad had passed. Mum had earlier put up those wall stickers to brighten up the room when Dad was sick. It was Christmas Eve morning, when this tiny rainbow reflection was clearly seen. I took that small rainbow as a Christmas gift, a sign of hope, and peace in heaven.
The second was taken in the middle of this year at St Teresa’s Church. I was excited to spot a rainbow against such a beautiful backdrop. I was going through uncertainties at that time, and I had wanted so badly to take that rainbow as a sign that things would go the way I had desired, but it did not. I chose to believe that God was protecting me from further pain, and through it, I would learn to grow in joy and love in all circumstances.
These rainbows to me mirror the Advent themes of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. The themes nicely sum up to me what Christ’s coming is all about; it gives me great comfort, and is what I can hold on to as pillars in my life.