Our Advent is only four weeks. There was once an Advent of some thousands of years—and it had no Christmas. From what time God called Abraham from Ur of the Chaldeans, his children were expectant of the Messiah, the "Anointed One," who should redeem Israel. Even before his time, as we turn back the pages of sacred history, we hear God Himself proclaiming the great historic Advent that was to be ended by the first Christmas Day. Yet for those who were most individually invited by God to prepare for His coming, there was no Christmas, after all their waiting, for "He came unto His own and His own received Him not." That Advent is yet unfinished—only it is no longer Advent, but the long-drawn days of a people's cheated hopes.
It was back in the Garden of Eden, just after Adam and Eve had thrown away a priceless heritage to grasp at forbidden fruit, that "they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in paradise at the afternoon air." The sin had just been committed, sanctifying grace and supernatural destiny had just been lost, God had just been defied. Yet, then and there, the Advent of the human race was begun, for "I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed; she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel." From that day on, down the long years of the patriarchs, across the rising and the falling waters of the deluge, amid the confusion of tongues at Babel, the day of liberation was awaited.
But the ways of men had corrupted, and the thought of an Advent tide began to be obscured. So God called Abraham from out of his country and made of his descendants the "chosen people" who were to proclaim to all mankind that they were carriers of the Divine revelation, that one day—and that not too far off—the Redeemer would come to free them from the bondage of sin.
Therein we have the story of the Old Testament—the story of a people's hope. Down in Egypt or lingering for forty years in the desert, living in the Promised Land from Dan to Bersabee or harassed in Babylonian captivity, the Jews never forgot that they were to number one day as their own the Messiah, Him that was to redeem the world. Patriarchs told their children and their children's children, as Jacob did, that in them "all the tribes of the earth shall be blessed"; prophets saw that day in vision, as did an Isaiah, a Micheas, and a Daniel, who counted the very years; kings sang loud of it, as did David on his exulting harp.
What happened to Israel is increasingly a danger even for those "awaiting the blessed hope," even for those who have learned that Christ is God and that the Church is His living, infallible mouthpiece. The call of the things of sense is blatant, from newspaper and billboard and splendidly planned window-display. Gift-giving and gift-receiving quite tax our every moment, and yet these may be present and there be no Christmas, and these may be absent and yet Christmas be most real. It is so easy these days to have Advent but no Christmas.
To have a real Christmas, a real birthday of Christ, there must echo not merely in our memories but in our actions that large refrain of Christmas-tide—Venite, Adoremus! "Come, let us adore." "For a Child is born to us and a Son is given to us." It is not enough that we grasp with the intellect that Christ was born on Christmas Day, but there must be the act of adoration in our wills and in our lives. "Two and two make four" is a truth that needs only mental assent, but "a Child is born to us" needs the consent of the will which means homage and service and the vitalizing presence of Christ in our lives.
This is the burden of the Church's liturgy from the First Sunday of Advent on. It is a crescendo of expectation that is not speculative, not sterile, but fruitful of increasing nearness to God. Read the Introits of the Masses. On the First Sunday of Advent there is a faraway hope: "To Thee, O Lord, have I lifted up my soul. In Thee, O my God, I put my trust; let me not be ashamed." That hope draws nearer, and the next Sunday's Mass opens with the words: "People of Sion, behold the Lord shall come to save the nations, and the Lord shall make the glory of His voice be heard in the joy of your heart." Then, as in mid-Lent with Laetare, so in mid-Advent the Church bids us on the Third Sunday: "Rejoice in the Lord always.... For the Lord is near. Be nothing solicitous; but in everything by prayer let your petitions be known to God." Across the Ember Days and on the Fourth Sunday the cry of increasing expectancy rings loud: "Drop down dew, ye heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain the just; let the earth be opened, and bud forth a Saviour," until, in the tense Mass of Christmas Eve, our Holy Mother the Church breaks forth exultingly: "Today you shall know that the Lord will come and save us; and in the morning you shall see His glory."
Then in the morning His glory is seen, indeed, in the triple Mass of the day. "The Lord said to me: Thou art My Son, this day have I begotten Thee," and the eternal generation of the Second Person is remembered in the first Mass. This eternal generation is accomplished from eternity, beyond and without our aid. Then the page of the Missal is turned and the birth of Christ in time is told in the Introit of the second Mass: "Light shall shine upon us today, because the Lord is born for us, and He shall be called Wonderful, God, the Prince of peace, the Father of the world to come; and of His kingdom there shall be no end." That light, the light of the birth of Christ in time, has been upon the world these nineteen hundred years without the intervention of our help.
But the third Mass—the Mass of the birth of Christ in the hearts of men—brings down the feast into our own individual lives: "A Child is born to us, and a Son is given to us; and the government is on His shoulder; and His name shall be called the Angel of great counsel." That birth of Christ needs the cooperation of each individual. Each must make place in his heart for "the Angel of great counsel," that, as the coming of Christ at Bethlehem changed the course of human history, so by His coming into the hearts of all with His "great counsel," "the government" of each soul may be "on His shoulders," and Advent end with a real Christmas.