As someone trained in liturgical studies and who touts a certain seriousness about the historic traditions of the Church, I am self-conscious about admitting that of all the seasons in the Church year, Advent (not even Easter, for heaven's sake) is my favorite. It may be the contrarian in me, I suppose, but I find in the lections, the hymnody, and the atmosphere so much to sink my faith-teeth into that I can barely contain myself.
I appreciate Advent, first, because of its counter-cultural aspects: While all the commercial world (at least in the West) is celebrating Christmas at the same time as it "prepares" for Christmas, the Church is saying, "It's not Christmas. We have more important work to do, a more important message to attend to than 'get the tree up' and 'I'll be home for Christmas.'" It's easy to adopt the world's calendar and to celebrate the Christmas season -- read the season of buying and busyness -- which extends from Thanksgiving Friday up to December 25. But that is not the Church's way.
In fact, before the Church allows herself to revel in the romanticism, the joy, the peace and comfort, the remarkable meaning of the Incarnation, she takes time to set a larger vista within which so to revel: Advent is an eschatological season. The message is not just, "It's time to celebrate Jesus' birthday" or "It's time to 'ret up' the place for Jesus to come as a baby -- which, of course, he has already done." No, the message is, "Now we wait for the Grand Finale, the apocalyptic wonder, the Second coming -- and with that coming all the promises which have been fulfilled in only a proleptic way will be fulfilled for all." It's a time of Isaiah's visions; it ought also be at time to read Revelation. (I don't get why those are not the Epistle readings!)
Advent is a call to set aside the busyness, not to "keep Christ in Christmas," but to be prepared to received the One Who Returns. How does one appropriately await the delayed Parousia? Well, by watching, waiting, acting justly and with mercy -- in short by living the life of God, as he has revealed it. That's what "preparation" is: Live the salvation you already have and thereby be ready to recognize the Lord when he comes.
From Fr. Alfred Delp, a German Jesuit who was executed by the Nazis for his faithful witness (+1945):
There is perhaps nothing we modern people need more than to be genuinely shaken up. Where life is firm we need to sense its firmness; and where it is unstable and uncertain and has no basis, no foundation, we need to know this too and endure it.
We may ask why God has sent us into this time, why he has sent this whirlwind over the earth, why he keeps us in this chaos where all appears hopeless and dark and why there seems to be no end to this in sight. The answer to this question is perhaps that we were living on earth in an utterly false and counterfeit security. And now God strikes the earth till it resounds, now he shakes and shatters; not to pound us with fear, but to teach us one things -- the spirit's innermost moving and being moved.
Many of the things that are happening today would never have happened if we had been living in that movement and disquiet of heart which results when we are faced with God, the Lord, and when we look clearly at things as they really are.
-- quoted from Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas (Farmington, PA: Plough Publishing House, 2001)
Lord, by your Spirit, claim our hearts and souls, our minds and imaginations, our loyalties and our affections -- that we might be encouraged and empowered to fling wide doors and unbar gates, to straighten roads into royal highways, to comfort your people, and to proclaim an end to captivity. Amen. Maranatha!