The year 2017 will soon be over, and the stage is almost set for a new year. However, there are many confusing things that usually greet this period such that one cannot but wonder who is greater and more important: God or the New Year, which is merely a change of time?
Apart from calling Christmas “odun kekere,” small feast, and the New Year day, “odun nla,” the big feast, many of our people see the period leading to a new year as the only effective time for prayer. There are even reports of people who attend Church only on the eve of a new year. There is nothing wrong in putting one’s self under the umbrella of God at the threshold of the New Year. Yet, coming constantly to the Church during the year is very important. There are those who also join in idolising a new year by running helter-skelter for confession of sin, yet feel comfortable at Christmas without making the stipulated spiritual preparation.
The Catholic Church is already in a new year, because what the festivity is to the Gregorian calendar is what Advent is to the liturgical calendar. Advent is a season of grace which marks the beginning of a new life in God. It celebrates newness and freshness of life. Everything is new at Advent. It is a time we change from a liturgical year into a new one. We do not just change date and season; a change of life is expected. We try to improve on what transpired in the previous liturgical year with the hope of a better outing in the new one. That is why, as with the New Year, the faithful are expected to make new resolutions towards leading a renewed life based on the various helps provided by the Church.
Conviction in the coming of Christ deepens our life of faith. It determines how we live. Some people who doubt his coming in glory and those who don’t care about it at all, tend to make no preparations. Meanwhile, among those who know that he will surely come again are the lazy ones while some others are simply not making adequate preparations. Whether anybody likes it or not, Christmas always comes and that is why it is an immovable feast; it has a fixed date. In the same way, Jesus Christ will come one day, but that day we do not know. His coming does not depend on anybody. Getting ready for his coming therefore is a wise thing to do. It is to our advantage, just as we, human beings, generally make adequate preparations to forestall unwanted occurrences. The quality of any achievement depends on the preparation and labour. Anything you don’t prepare for, you simply don’t benefit immensely from it. In other words, the significance of our preparation for the birthday of the Saviour goes beyond the yearly event; hence, it must be a daily affair.
It is important that we do not become distracted by decorations, food, clothes, and generally the noise associated with the preparation for Christmas. We cannot deny the fact that Christmas, for a lot of people, has attracted various socio-economic importance and fair-ground attractions which amount to chasing the shadow while the substance is at large. The substance in this case is the significance of the birth of the Saviour.
When Christ first came we hear of those who responded appropriately and enjoyed his coming. We are required to put up the same attitude as we prepare for the Lord’s return in glory. Our preparation must be purely spiritual. Christ’s second coming is not about the clothes we wear, the houses we build, the cars we ride, the positions we occupy, but the condition of our souls when he comes. All of us must, as a result, try to amend our ways with God and man.
The message of John the Baptist, at the first coming of Christ still rings a bell. The people of Israel trooped out to the wilderness or desert to see this true prophet of God. His life and message corresponded and touched the people immensely. He, as a person, did not allow the hustle and bustle of society to prevent him from hearing God so he chose to live in the wilderness. The people followed John to the desert. They went to him to hear the truth no matter how bitter. They did not follow John in order to be entertained, but to hear the truth. In these days, truth has become a scarce commodity even in places of worship. Modern man has dethroned God and has enthroned himself. No one borders about the truth again. Religion has become where people can feel good. It is no longer a platform to encounter God. In Advent, each one is invited to a “desert” of a sort, to truly encounter God.
The message of John the Baptist was about conversion not prosperity, and, contrary to the lifestyle of his days, he chose to live differently; he lived as an ascetic. And people of Judea and Jerusalem, who longed for the coming of the messiah, trooped to him. They did not want to take chances. It is good to make decorations for Christmas. At least one must know that Christmas is coming. But, as good as all the decorations for Christmas are, they are actually a reminder of how our souls should be beautiful for the coming feast. The external decorations must complement our spiritual readiness for the coming Saviour. To please him, we must truly cleanse our hearts of iniquities and be resolved to do the will of God. This Advent, the Church offers us the opportunity to get rid of sin by attending the sacrament of reconciliation whereby we examine our consciences, confess our sins to the priest and sincerely return to the way of God. We must not wait until it is 31 December night to do this for we are an Advent people, a Maranatha people.
Our expectation of Christ’s return is constant. We are to keep watching and praying until he comes again.