As we countdown to Christmas it is important to remember the significance of the countdown itself. Renowned author and ordained Presbyterian minister Frederick Buechner had a profound thought about Advent. He wrote, “The extraordinary thing that is about to happen is matched only by the extraordinary moment just before it happens. Advent is the name of that moment.” I happen to agree.
Pope Francis I has been more specific in describing Advent, saying, “Advent is a journey towards Bethlehem. May we let ourselves be drawn by the light of God made man.” We call it the Christmas season for many reasons. One of those reasons is Advent.
Advent began very differently from what is celebrated in churches today. First reports have it beginning as early as the year 480. By 567, monks were ordered to fast every day in December until Christmas. The Advent celebration fell out of practice around the 13th century, though the Catholic liturgy is virtually unchanged.
The celebration of Advent that most of us know today involves a wreath and a series of candles. This practice began with German Lutherans in the 16th century, taking shape into the wreath and tapers we know today in the mid-19th century.
The most common Advent display is a wreath with three purple candles and a fourth pink candle across from each other on the wreath with a white candle in the middle. A purple candle is lit the first, second, and third Sunday of the weeks before Christmas. The pink candle is lit the last Sunday before Christmas, and the white candle is lit Christmas Day.
Each Advent Sunday’s tradition and message varies by denomination. Ultimately, they all celebrate the same thing, preparing ourselves spiritually to celebrate Christmas. A short message published in The Catholic Connection gets it right.
Life is a constant Advent season: we are continually waiting to become, to discover, to complete to fulfill. Hope, struggle, fear, expectation and fulfillment are all part of our Advent experience… The world is not as just, not as loving, not as whole as we know it can and should be. But… (Christmas)… give(s) us reason to live in hope: that light will shatter the darkness, that we can be liberated from our fears and prejudices, that we are never alone or abandoned… May this Advent season be a time for bringing hope, transformation and fulfillment into the Advent of our lives.
Christmas is the time for us to hope. It is the time for us to have faith. It is the time for us to believe.
If Advent truly can extend beyond the Christmas season, if it does in fact serve as a metaphor for our daily life, then this season is also the advent of the 101st General Assembly. We will have new legislators. We will have a new Attorney General. We will have a new Governor. What can we expect?
First I will share some good news from the Illinois Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability. In its November Monthly Briefing is an article titled, “Economy: Appears Bright for Strong Holiday Sales,” that analyzed economic data through October of this year. Consumer confidence rose, personal consumption showed the highest increase since March, and disposable income had the biggest gains since January.
Unemployment in Illinois decreased from 4.9% to 4.2%. Civilian labor force grew, as did nonfarm payroll. Illinois had 15% more new car and truck registrations, there were 28% more single family housing permits issued. “The National Retail Federation (NRF) report in October projected holiday sales… in November and December to grow between 4.3% and 4.8% over 2017. IHS Markit also forecast in October that holiday retail sales… for the same period would increase 5.0%.”
When retail sales go up, you know what else goes up? Sales tax receipts go up, that’s what. The article continues, projecting 2018 holiday season sales taxes to increase between 5% and 5.6%. More holiday sales tax revenue will definitely help us close the Illinois budget gap before relying on increasing the income or property tax burden for working families.
On the other hand, our pension challenge continues to grow. The Commission also issued a special briefing for legislators simply titled “Special Pension Briefing.” The article, “State Retirement Systems Overview,” tells us that our unfunded pension liabilities have climbed to $133.7 billion dollars as of June 30th, 2018.
My hope for this legislative advent is that the newly elected members consider the scope of our pension challenge and commit in principle to solving it. Addressing our pension crisis provides certainty for retirees, protects working families from crushing tax increases, and secures funding to deliver necessary government services.
I want to share my heartfelt thanks to all of you who attended this year’s Holiday Party. It was a wonderful event, and we look forward to many more celebrations together.
We have so much to be thankful for and celebrate this Christmas season. I wish you and yours, a very Merry Christmas.
As you know, my office is continuing to transition. If you have any additional thoughts or ideas, you can reach me or Glenda at 815-284-0045. My website is www.senatorstewart.com and it will be completed very soon. We are adding a newsletter feature as well, so stay tuned!