Many of us seem to have been taken aback by the occurrence of Advent and Christmas this year.
First of all, there is the matter of Dec. 25 falling on a Monday. This means, of course, that the Fourth Sunday of Advent will be Dec. 24, and, after the regular Sunday Masses, we go immediately into the Christmas Masses on Sunday evening.
This arrangement is not, however, some extraordinary thing. The calendar for Advent and Christmas can be arranged in only seven ways. And all seven arrangements occur regularly (with adjustments for leap years) as we proceed from one year to another.
Last year, Advent ran four full weeks, with Christmas occurring on Sunday. This year, Advent has sort of collapsed upon itself, running three weeks and one day.
Advent will gradually run longer over the next few years, as Christmas occurs on Tuesday in 2018, Wednesday in 2019, Friday in 2020 (note the leap-year effect), Saturday in 2021, and Sunday in 2022. Advent “collapses” again into three weeks and one day in 2023.
The second thing which many have remarked on as odd is the distance this year between Thanksgiving and the First Sunday of Advent. Again, we keep in mind that there are only seven arrangements for the occurrence of Thanksgiving (fourth Thursday of November), just as there are only seven ways for the First Sunday of Advent to occur (Nov. 27 through Dec. 3, inclusive). Among those seven, there are two in which these two observances are 10 days apart: this year’s arrangement, with Thanksgiving on Nov. 23 and the First Sunday of Advent on Dec. 3; and next year’s arrangement, with Thanksgiving on Nov.22 and the First Sunday of Advent on Dec. 2. In the other five arrangements, Thanksgiving and the First Sunday of Advent are three days apart.
As people have noted these details, many likewise remark on the passage of time itself. It is held to be a feature of advancing age that it seems to us as if time is merciless as it speeds along.
Advent, as it happens, is a call to us to situate ourselves at the “intersection” of time and timelessness. We mainly experience the rush of time. Our God calls us into his own timelessness. We are given sacred texts from various prophets, especially from the book of the prophet Isaiah (which in fact records the oracles of two or three distinct individuals).
We may associate time with anxiety. Our ceaseless activity causes us to wonder about the meaning of what we do. This weekend’s Old Testament reading, which is the beginning of what is called “Second Isaiah,” announces the “comfort” given by a timeless God, who calls us to enter into his peace.
The Savior of the world left his divine timelessness in order to unite himself with us in the time and the anxiety we experience. We know that we must “number our days aright, that we may gain wisdom of heart” (Psalm 90). The Scriptures of Advent aid us as we develop a taste for God’s timelessness. Jesus’ first coming grips our imagination and encourages us to long for his second coming, in which God’s faithful will experience timeless peace.