Advent – waking up to living in three worlds

Time-traveling three worlds at the same time

For one month twenty-five years ago I was living in three different worlds at the same time – the late 20th century, 17th century France and the 21st century that was about to come. I was on a “Heritage Tour” with a busload of confreres traveling through France and Italy to visit sites that would help us understand our Vincentian heritage.

The three worlds were

  • Present – Traveling with confreres raised in the world view rooted in the mid 20th century.
  • Past – Visiting Cathedrals and special places in the life of Vincent – a heritage from almost 400 years earlier.
  • Future – Reading a book on the bus about an emerging “Post-modern world” or a new era in human development and new ways of thinking about our world

I remember clearly a moment when I realized that each of these worlds used different lenses in looking at life. I woke up to the fact that I was moving from a relatively static world experiencing  little change from generation to generation to a world of marked by an ever-increasing rate of change  bringing with it many new ideas, values and challenges,

I thought of a book I had read ten years earlier, Alvin Toffler’s ”Future Shock”. He described “too much change in too short a period of time”. I found it thought-provoking. And that was before technology literally changed everything and changed it so fast many could not even realize it had changed.  It was not merely changes spread out over many generations or from one generation to the next…  now it is even within generations. We used to call them “fads” but this goes much deeper.

In some sense, my experience on the bus in Europe amounted to a concentrated experience of Toffler’s landmark book. The shock was my first perceptions of “too much change in too short a period of time”.

The Three layers of Advent

As I think about Advent it seems to be another example, a case in point. Has Advent gone missing in action over just the course of a few generations?

The commercial atmosphere of the time normally thought of Advent swamped the spiritual season of Advent. Advent is caught between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I remember a time when Advent wreaths were common. Today I wonder how many time people think about Advent as a season. For the average person, there is very little awareness of the meaning of Advent much less the spirituality it fosters.

Yet Advent is a very rich season in its focus on the “three comings of Jesus” and three different mind-sets.

  • The longing of a people for a Messiah who was not yet their midst. One who will make everything right.
  • A longing for the “second coming of Jesus” at the end of time
  • Recognizing the kingdom already present as proclaimed by Christ ” the kingdom of God is among you.”Luke 17:21

Notice the difference between the longing the past and future in contrast to the waking up to Christ’s presence among us here and now. Think of the question “when did we see you…?”

The past and the future of the kingdom can distract us from seeing christ present here and now.

Which Advent, if any, do you celebrate – The longing of an ancient people, the longing for a time to come … or waking up to the Jesus in our midst?

Excerpts from our Superior General’s Advent letter

In his 2019 Advent Letter to the Vincentian Family which reflects on  Fr. Thomas Mavric writes of some key insights into Vincent’s trust in Providence as an important dimension of Advent, waking up to God walking among us today.

  • “The Church offers us special times of the year, pauses along the way, to help us deepen our understanding of our life’s pilgrimage and find meaning in every single day, even minute, that makes up that path.”
  • “The more we place ourselves in the hands of Jesus, the more we are able to read daily events, encounters, and places as means through which Jesus communicates to us.”
  • “We will not evaluate life events as good times or bad times, but will look at them through Jesus’s person, trusting Him totally, and recognize them as “the right times.” This choice will make two terms, “fate” and “chance,” disappear from our vocabulary. We will realize that they are not compatible with our way of understanding the Gospel and Jesus.”
  • “Grace has its moments.”

Advent is a time for us to focus on the moments of waking up the kingdom within us and in which we already live.

Food for thought

  • Which world-view do you live in – Past, Present, or future?
  • Which Advent are you living in – living the past,  longing for the future, or waking up to Christ in the present?
  • What can I do this  Advent to wake up to the presence of God in the least among us as it was in Bethlehem?

Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date with how we are living up to the mission of St. Vincent de Paul, and how you can help.