|by Angela Lambert|
December 4th, 2016; 2nd Sunday of Advent
Gospel Matthew 3:1-12
John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” It was of him that the prophet Isaiah had spoken when he said: A voice of one crying out in the desert, Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. John wore clothing made of camel’s hair and had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. At that time Jerusalem, all Judea, and the whole region around the Jordan were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins. When he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones. Even now the ax lies at the root of the trees. Therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in his hand. He will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
The image of John the Baptist, dressed in camel hair and eating locusts, preaching the message of repentance and authentic sorrow for sins, provides a stark contrast to the marketing images flooding us of jolly Santas, piles of presents, and delicious foods. I can understand why marketers find Santas and reindeer more appealing for sales than a desert ascetic speaking about sin. People also feel increased pressures to prepare for Christmas by finding the perfect gifts within the time constraints of frantic schedules and limited budgets. Nevertheless, the Gospel writers remind us that preparation for Christmas is ultimately preparation for the Incarnation of God our Savior. He brings the gift of heaven, but we must prepare ourselves to receive that gift through repentance.
The push to start Christmas sales has lamentably encroached on Thanksgiving and even cast a shadow over Halloween. However, it has completely replaced Advent in our culture. It has become increasingly difficult to make the weeks leading up to Christmas a time of introspection, increased prayer, and sacrifice. By the time Catholics celebrate Christmas on the Eve of Christmas day and for the two weeks following it, the rest of the culture has already moved on.
So how can we balance living in the culture that we do and still honor the important process of conversion Advent is meant to procure? We can no longer wait to buy a Christmas tree until December 23rd because there won’t be any left. We can’t leave them up for the duration of the Liturgical Christmas season because the tree will be a fire hazard at that point, plus we will have missed our road side tree pick up provided by our garbage companies. I have surrendered this battle and get a tree the weekend after Thanksgiving. I also have to admit that I look forward to the Hallmark Christmas movies and, if possible, make a weekend of it with my mother and my daughter. Black Friday deals make Christmas gifts more affordable although I am too exhausted on Cyber Mondays to get online after work. However, I reserve some Christmas feasting for Christmas. I play Christmas music during the liturgical Christmas season and keep my Christmas decorations out (with the exception of the live tree). In my classroom at school I leave Christmas lights up in my room until Lent, reminding the kids that Jesus is the Light of the World.
Spiritual sacrifice, examination of conscience, and remorse for sins is harder to find time for. When the kids were little we would do Bible crafts and the kids had fun placing a felt ornament on our Jesse tree corresponding to a daily Scripture passage we would read. Now that my kids are older, it’s harder to find a time we are all home to pray together.
As a busy mom, I appreciate that the Church offers practical advice regarding spiritual preparation during Advent, and oftentimes opportunities organized by the parish to help us. Scripturally, spiritual preparation consists of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Parishes often offer Advent reflections, retreats, and youth ministry events to facilitate more introspective prayer during this time. We can add one of these events to our calendar just as we would any Christmas party invitation. Fasting is especially difficult, with so many Christmas parties and cookie exchanges taking place, but consider fasting from something simple and achievable, so that even in those moments you are connected to Christ and honoring the preparation for His coming that He deserves. I wouldn’t suggest giving up sweets altogether, but maybe you set a limit for yourself or give up something else that’s meaningful to you. Almsgiving may be the one aspect of Advent that lingers in our culture as generosity during the Christmas season seems to be a sentiment that still resonates in people’s hearts. Parishes, schools, offices, and neighborhoods band together for charitable causes and provide opportunities for us to give. We can participate with a spirit of giving to Christ who says, “Whatever you do for the least of these you do unto Me.” Let’s not forget that Christmas also provides less visible opportunities for giving, like keeping our eyes open for family members, neighbors, or colleagues who are lonely and inviting them to our homes.
Fasting and almsgiving can further be applied in our interactions with one another. The increased social contact brings with it both joy and discord; providing many more opportunities for spiritual works of mercy. Christmas get togethers bring out the best and worst in people. It provides opportunities to fast from gossip and to give encouragement; to fast from pettiness and to bear wrongs patiently, to fast from competitiveness and to give comfort. When we encounter persons we find annoying, frustrating, or difficult to be around, we can reflect on the compassion of the Lord, who became man, for love of that same person. When we are moved by the generosity and love of others towards ourselves, we can praise Christ as we tangibly experience His love in our own lives.
Advent has become an uphill battle, but the view from the top makes climbing it worth all the effort. This Advent I hope we can find a way to prepare our hearts and our lives for Christ a little more in some small way. I hope we acknowledge and surrender to Him sins we need Him to heal. Let’s demonstrate our authentic gratitude for his grace through prayer and acts of love. Finally, let’s try to keep Christ in Christmas, and John the Baptist in Advent.
- “Emmanuel” means God-with-us. Consider the gift of the Incarnation, that God became man, and dwelt among us.
- How has your heart and life opened to Christ over the years? How has He dwelt more and more in your life?
- Are there any areas of your life from which you keep Christ closed off? Are there any places, people, or activities you wouldn’t feel comfortable having Christ present?
- Reflect on the people you will encounter this season. Consider them from Christ’s point of view. How might you be the hands and heart of Christ to them in your interactions?
Make a Resolution (Practical Application):
- Choose one way this Advent to pray, fast, and give.
- Put a church sponsored Advent or Christmas event on your calendar, then attend it.
- Fast from gossip and critical remarks.
- Intentionally give to Christ, above your regular tithing. Choose a charity or a particular person, and be generous to Jesus by being generous to them.
~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2016
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