Editorial | Take a walk on the path of Advent

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As Christmas nears, we get inundated with messages emphasizing the materialism of Christmas. There's so much to do. It's easy to succumb and begin to dread what's ahead.

The time before Christmas — Advent — should be filled with joy in anticipation of what is coming. Beginning the Church's liturgical year, Advent is the season encompassing the four Sundays leading up to the celebration of Christmas. This time of preparation directs our hearts and minds to Christ's second coming at the end of time and also to the anniversary of the Lord's birth on Christmas.

An Advent calendar is a good way to pause each day and remember the true reason for the hustle and bustle at this time of year. The progressive lighting of the candles of an Advent wreath symbolizes the expectation and hope surrounding our Lord's first coming into the world and the anticipation of his second coming to judge the living and the dead. The greenery represents the hope of newness, renewal and eternal life, seen through the birth of the Christ child.

Other ideas for focusing on the true reason for the season include placing a piece of straw in an empty manger for each good deed or sacrifice made for others. Devotional reading, a blessing of the Christmas tree and other special prayers also are a good idea.

In preparation for Christmas, Pope Francis urged people to read the second half of the Book of Isaiah, "the great prophet of Advent, the great messenger of hope."

When the prophet was writing, the pope explained, the people of Israel were in exile, they had "lost everything — their homeland, freedom, dignity and even their trust in God. They felt abandoned and without hope."

Isaiah not only proclaims God's love and fidelity, but called on those who still have faith to offer consolation to others and help them "reopen their hearts to faith."

The desert — literally and figuratively — "is a difficult place to live, but it is precisely the place where one can walk to return not only to one's homeland, but to God, return to hoping and smiling," the pope said.

Hope doesn't come with power or wealth, but with trusting in God, the pope said.

The key players in the Christmas story, he said, prove that "history is not made by the powerful, but by God together with His little ones, those small and simple people whom we find around Jesus, who is about to be born: Zachariah and Elizabeth, who are old and marked by sterility; Mary, the young virgin engaged to Joseph; the shepherds, who were despised and counted for nothing."

They had hope and they turned the dark and twisted paths of life around them into "a highway on which to walk toward the glory of the Lord," the pope said.

Slow down just a bit this Advent and take that same walk. It has a lot more staying power than the walk through malls or Santa displays. 

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