Advent is like happy Lent. Both seasons are penitential, and both invite us to prepare our hearts for the two seminal moments of the Church year. Yet, we’re always more excited about Advent. Christmas is the long-promised arrival of the Savior, but Easter is Christ’s victory over death and the opening of our salvation.
Despite the seasonal similarities, most of us treat Lent like Catholic New Year’s Resolutions and Advent as an afterthought. We race from Thanksgiving to Christmas with only four candles standing in our way. It’s a naturally busy time, with things winding down at the end of the year. It’s an opportunity to slow down, again, and prepare our hearts for our ultimate goal.
Ancient peoples often settled on the banks of rivers. The waters ensured that people, crops, and livestock could flourish. Water is life. Rivers seldom flow straight. Instead, they cut meandering paths through the countryside. As these peoples travelled from town to town, their journey on foot took time. Today, we’ve conquered these natural obstacles with roads, bridges, train tracks, and airplanes. We’ve mastered the geometric truth that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line.
In the journey of our lives, we aspire to walk a straight path. We want to travel from where we are, directly to the joy of Heaven. Daily, even hourly, we deviate. As we look in the rearview mirror, a long and winding road comes into view. There are the times when we dedicated ourselves to prayer and virtue, and times when we strayed. Looking forward, we see the path before us, but don’t always choose to follow it.
The prophets tell us to make straight the paths of the Lord, to focus on Him and move directly towards Him. God knows us and knows our hearts. He doesn’t expect perfection. He patiently anticipates failures and deviation. That’s why He gave us the Church and the Sacraments. These mile markers and road signs guide us back to where we want to go.
Advent is the second check-in of the year to get us back on the straight path. It’s another chance to confess our failures, seek the forgiveness of God, and to return to the path that is the shortest distance between where we are now and life forever with God in Heaven.