I think most of us are familiar with the phrase “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” It was first used by Aristotle in his written work Metaphysics. Down through history, it is likely that other people used the same phrase with their work. A structural engineer may use the phrase to explain how the plumbing, heating, and electricity work together to make a home. An artist may use the phrase to describe how some pieces of a landscape are used and others are left out to paint a beautiful picture. On this First Sunday of Advent, let’s look at a few of the different parts whose sum will contribute to the whole that we hope to celebrate on Christmas.
First, it is important to consider the content of the Advent gospel readings. On the First Sunday of Advent, the gospel reading focuses on the end times and Jesus preaching about the coming of the “Day of the Lord.” On the Second Sunday of Advent, the gospel reading focuses on the preaching and ministry of John the Baptist as the forerunner of Jesus. John is the one who came to “Prepare the Way of the Lord.” On the Third Sunday of Advent, (Gaudete Sunday) the gospel reading continues to focus on John the Baptist, while the first and second readings encourage us to be joyful because of the increasing closeness of the incarnation and our salvation. On the Fourth Sunday of Advent, the gospel reading is about the visitation of Mary to Elizabeth. But we hear only Elizabeth speaking. Mary’s proclamation “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,” is not heard. Perhaps, this is an opportunity for us to quietly but quickly contemplate what we have heard about the end times, about the call and ministry of John the Baptist, and about Elizabeth’s response to Mary before we celebrate the birth of Jesus.
Today the first Advent candle surrounded by a circle of evergreen is lit. Evergreens symbolize immortality. The circle, which has no beginning or end, symbolizes the eternity of God, the immortality of our soul, and the everlasting life found in Christ. While the four candles represent the four weeks of Advent, they each represent one thousand years that add up to the 4,000 years from Adam and Eve until the birth of Christ. The purple candles symbolize the prayer, penance, and good works we do. The rose candle is lit on Gaudete Sunday, when our Advent journey is half-way through. The progressive lighting of the candles symbolizes the expectation and hope that were needed by the Israelites for Christ’s first coming into the world and our anticipation of Jesus coming at the end of the world. The Season of Advent has many parts. Hopefully, we will find on Christmas day that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Fr. Bob Kelly, OP