I find it to be a bittersweet ending, though, because this year Advent has been a season of the anticipation and experience of death.
I wrote a few months ago about a friend who was diagnosed with terminal cancer. He is still with us but I know his family is planning his funeral and all of Advent I have known that one morning I might wake up to find he has gone on to the Lord.
This morning I woke up to just such news, but it wasn't him; another friend who has long been ill died last evening. I never met her in real life, but Lavona Rann became a friend via social networking, and prayers for her and her husband have also been present this Advent, especially in the last couple days, when we received word of her immanent death.
Last week, as a result of the car wreck I described, I, too, have been pondering my own mortality, realizing anew that the Master can come at any hour, any time - are any of us ready to meet Him?
Of my two friends, the preparation is there, they had received the Sacraments and were looking toward eternity while in laboring at the end of their lives, the travail of all the years so proper in Advent, likely giving them a new understanding as well - only one far more real, far more concrete.
During Advent, the Church looks toward not only the celebration of the birth of Our Savior, but towards His second coming. The readings especially in early Advent are dark and violent, yet this is so proper, for death is violent by its nature. Death was not intended by God but was brought about by humanity through the violence of sin.
That original sin ruptured us and we continue to suffer that wound and the results of that wound. Christ was born and came to bleed for us to satisfy the blood that would not have been shed at all but for our own abuse of free will.
So He came, softly at first, but his birth was still marked by violence of the world that did not want to receive Him and sought to kill Him such that it killed the Holy Innocents, the babies that were so representative of Him. Yet, look around: that hasn't changed.
We are called, in Advent, and yes, even in the Christmas season, to recall this violence, both that which was the Fall, and that which brings Redemption, to the degree that they day after Christmas we recognize the Feast of St. Stephen - the first Christian martyr.
Advent is about conversion. It is about recognizing who and what we are in the face of God, who created us out of love, for love, and wills only our good. It is about really opening our eyes and SEEING the mire we choose to live in in place of the holiness that will lead us to true happiness.
We are called to recognize that in order to truly follow Christ, to receive the Christ Child, we must do violence to ourselves by turning from sin, by severing SIN from our lives and casting ourselves upon the Child who came to ransom us and heal our relationship with God.
People don't like to hear about violence and death, and no doubt there are those who will criticize this post for being "fire and brimstone".
There is no better time of year, though, to hear about fire and brimstone, for sometimes we need that reminder to cause us to look towards the Light of Christ, to beg once again to see Him face to face, and fall in love to such a degree that turning from sin makes the agony of conversion into joy. When conversion is real it arises from love, not fear, and that is a gift from God to us - but He cannot give us this gift if we do not turn to him with open arms. If we refuse to look at Him, we cannot receive Him - and this is the greatest violence of all.
Today is Christmas Eve; still a day of Advent, and today, we are at the end of our travail. Our Lord comes; Jesus comes to us. The churches will be overflowing at Mass, with both those who have prepared and those who have not. There are those who will attend with great joy and enter into the Mystery of the Incarnation, and there are those who will attend as though Mass is something "to get through and over with" before the real festivities will begin.
Let us not approach the celebration of the Birth of Christ in this manner, but rather, when we approach the altar, let us lay our own lives down as a gift to Him, in thanksgiving and love for the gift of Himself to us.
There is no better way to celebrate the Nativity.