When I was younger, Advent meant an Advent calendar where you gifted yourself with something every day (like a snickers or an ice cream each day) leading up to Christmas and on Christmas Day itself – there would be an avalanche of gifts!
I couldn’t have been more wrong in my life.
As I grow older, Advent has become a season beyond gifts (of course Advent itself and what it entails is a gift! – you’ll see why I say so later); it has become a season where I encounter both the birth and death of both myself and God’s Christ – Jesus. And we all know that both birth and death are gifts in their own right.
This Advent is a special one for me. I’ve never spent Advent away from home and this year I’m spending 95% of Advent overseas; and to make things “better”, I’ve decided to spend Advent in non-English speaking countries where English masses are almost non-existent.
Nonetheless, God has been kind and he has revealed to me what Advent truly is.
All my life, I knew in my head that mass all over the world is celebrated the same; but actually attending mass in the absence of understanding the words and what the priest is saying, I could appreciate the Eucharistic liturgy for what it was meant to be – the ultimate sacrifice to save me (most days I still think Jesus is a crazy man for dying for me!)
But in order for me to receive Him as gift, I need to gift of myself to Him as well.
From Jesus’ birth, he was marked for death. In seeing the Eucharistic liturgy in its bare form – stripped of words, stripped of the fanciful rituals that we have back home in Singapore – it is a stark reminder of what Advent is truly about: His love for us.
From the day Jesus was born, He suffered rejection, He suffered loneliness, betrayal, pain, temptation… you name it he’s got it. He chose to be born to suffer with us, and in that co-suffering (also known as “compassion”), I know that Jesus has got my back because He knows what I’m going through.
So each time I participate in the holy mass during this time of Advent, I know that Jesus is calling me to eat of him and suffer with him – just like how he suffered with me on earth. He is calling me to die to myself and my desires so that I can fully experience (or what my human limitations perceive as “full”) Him who is the ultimate gift. But in order for me to receive Him as gift, I need to gift of myself to Him as well.
Young me could have been wrong in thinking that Advent is a season of gifts. But maybe young me was not too wrong about Advent being a season of gifts. Maybe what characterises Advent is that it a season of receiving the gift of Jesus by the gifting of ourselves. Instead of indulging all Advent, let us (me) aspire to die to ourselves (myself) so that we (I) can be born again in Christ.
Nathalie Rachel Fernandez
This story was first published on Landings Singapore.