Advent is a season of preparation for the coming of Christ, both at Christmas and also at the end of time. The sense of Advent can be summed up in the words spoken both by John the Baptist and Jesus: “Repent ye for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2, 4:17). Advent prepares us for Christmas as Lent prepares us for Easter. Consequently, it is proper to view Advent as season for increased spiritual disciplines, including some practice of fasting.
In our attempts to observe Advent as time of preparation, we run up against the problem that Advent and Christmas have been essentially merged in our culture. As we do our Christmas shopping we are not likely to hear any calls for repentance. Instead, we will spend our money in Advent to background Christmas tunes such as “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”—and Advent is full of “Christmas” parties.
In church, Jesus will not appear in the manger and Christmas Carols will not be sung until Christmas Eve—until it is actually Christmas. However, I do not think it is advisable or desirable for us to go about in the midst of the cultural “holiday season” as spoil sports, demanding that people postpone the celebration. It is not a very good witness to our faith and it is perfectly okay to express the joy of our relationship with Christ always.
Nonetheless, serious Christians ought to observe Advent as a time of spiritual preparation. We should practice some kind of fasting. We should get rid of something for the season. Perhaps it will be to eliminate some form of electronics or entertainment, or perhaps it will be the more traditional abstaining from some form of food and/or drink. But we ought to fast in some way. If we are invited to a party in Advent that would require us to break the fast, we ought to go and join in the celebration—and resume our fast the next day.
Fasting is an aid to prayer. We should add something to our usual Rule. Perhaps we will be more diligent to pray the daily offices, or perhaps we will practice some increased time of silence. This can be easily accomplished by turning off, for defined periods of time, whatever electronic thing it is that we too frequently listen to or look at. We can turn off the noise and listen for the voice of God for some period of time each day. This simple practice for, say, 15-30 minutes a day, would amount to a significant Advent discipline.
The disciplines of Advent are for the purpose of growing in our repentance. We ought to ask God to reveal to us anything that would leave us unprepared for the coming of Christ. Are there sins we need to confess? Are we in love and charity with our neighbors? Is there someone we need to forgive or ask for forgiveness?
Despite the cultural confusion, Jesus really is coming and we really do need to get ready. As St. Paul reminded us in the epistle for the First Sunday in Advent, “Now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light” (Romans 13:11-12).