Everybody knows, even those of us who have lived most unadventurously, what it is to plod on for miles, it seems, eagerly straining your eyes toward the lights that, somehow, mean home. How difficult it is, when you are doing that to judge distances! In pitch darkness, it might be a couple of miles to your destination, it might be a few hundred yards. So it was, I think, with the Hebrew prophets, as they looked forward to the redemption of their people. They could not have told you, within a hundred years, within five hundred years, when it was the deliverance would come. They only knew that, some time, the stock of David would burgeon anew; some time, a key would be found to fit the door of their prison house; some time, the light that only shows, now, like a will-o'-the-wisp on the horizon would broaden out, at last into the perfect day.With Advent the liturgical year begins in the Western churches. Before Christmas we spend time in contemplation and preparation for the coming of Christ on three levels: as memorial of his incarnation as the babe in Bethlehem, to his coming with grace in our souls, and in looking forward to when he comes as the Judge at the end of time.
This attitude of expectation is one which the Church wants to encourage in us, her children, permanently. She sees it as an essential part of our Christian drill that we should still be looking forward; getting on for two thousand years, now, since the first Christmas Day came and went, and we must still be looking forward. So she encourages us, during advent, t take the shepherd-folk for our guides, and imagine ourselves traveling with them at dead of night, straining our eyes towards that chink of light which streams out, we know, from the cave at Bethlehem.R.A. Knox, Sermon on Advent 1947
quoted in In Conversation with God, Vol. 1, Francis Fernandez
Those who celebrate Advent do so with various private devotions during this time. Some read a specific book to think about, some go to regular adoration, some try to avoid excessive focus on Christmas preparations, and such things. I have signed up for our church's weekly Monday Advent adoration which is being offered for the first time.
As well, although this is more of a new liturgical year thing, I received my 2010 patron saint selection from Enbrethiliel who came up with a saint that I surely should have noticed from my regular reading of her blog ... but, naturally, didn't. So he had to go to these lengths to get me to pay attention: San Lorenzo Ruiz de Manila.
I knew nothing about this saint but got very excited when my first search showed he was a martyr in Japan. I have a special devotion to the Asian Church, especially to the persecuted Chinese Church. The more I read, especially about the crazy coincidences that led San Lorenzo to his ultimate fate, the more I related to this man who was trying to go one place but followed God to another which he never would have imagined. Isn't that the story for all of us? Although hopefully not with such a literal martyrdom ...
Enbrethiliel has written more about San Lorenzo here, here, and here (scroll down).