I must admit that I enjoy Advent. I see it as my oasis from the trauma and the drama the secular world experiences this kind of year. Of course, I am not immune to that frantic roller-coaster ride through the mall, the maddening search for that elusive Holy Grail called a parking space and the frustratingly perpetual challenge of what to buy my father.
There is something calming, soothing and therapeutic about walking into a church, seeing the Advent wreath and looking at the sanctuary draped in purple. It is a welcome respite for eyes that have been assaulted by every known interpretation of Santa Claus, Frosty and Rudolph. In some cases, the subdued, haunting beauty of O Come, O Come Emmanuel and Creator of the Stars of Night manage to dispel the endless onslaught of the secularized Christmas carols that blare through just about every store.
But, there is also something deeper here. Advent presents us with a season of penance in the face of a season of excess. The purple vestments (and, even to a certain extent, the rose) stand in stark contrast to the reds, golds, greens and whites of the Christmas decor seen all over the place. Purple is the Church's traditional color of penance. It reminds us that before we embark on celebrating Christmas, we must repent and re-orient ourselves to Christ.
It's no wonder that St. John the Baptist stands as one of the main figures of the Advent season, along with the Blessed Mother. In fact, St. John's whole adult life seemed steeped in the austere. He lived in a state of penance, as I see it, clothed in a hair shirt and eating locusts and wild honey. The whole purpose of his being was to serve as the herald of the Messiah, preparing Ancient Israel for the revelation of the Christ.
And how did he prepare them? He did not rally Ancient Israel and whip them into some sort of zealous frenzy. Rather, he called them to repentance, to conversion, to re-orientation. He called them to renounce their sins and to prepare their hearts to receive Him whose sandal straps St. John was unworthy to fasten.
It is the same call from the Baptist that reaches across the centuries to the New Israel, the Church. The Baptist's cry from the Jordan still proclaims that the Lord is nigh and that we must repent. While we might not technically "give up" something for Advent, as we do during Lent, we are still called to make some sort of effort at repentence, at conversion, at re-orientation. We are called to get our house in order to receive the Infant King at Christmas and to receive that same King when He returns in glory.
And just what are we called to do? We are called to love. We are called to share ourselves with people. We are called to pray for each other. It's not any different than the advice St. John, as recorded in the Gospel according to St. Luke, gave to the people when they asked him how to prepare for the Messiah:
And he answering, said to them: He that hath two coats, let him give to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do in like manner.  And the publicans also came to be baptized, and said to him: Master, what shall we do?  But he said to them: Do nothing more than that which is appointed you.  And the soldiers also asked him, saying: And what shall we do? And he said to them: Do violence to no man; neither calumniate any man; and be content with your pay.
And, so it is with us. I think that each one of us can fall into one of the three groups who asked St. John what they should do. Maybe we have a little bit of all three of the groups iside of us. Perhaps, these acts, coupled with time spent in prayer, could very well serve as our Advent regimen. Thus, we will prepare ourselves to celebrate Christ's first coming while we look with joyful hope towards his ultimate return in glory.
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel!