|by Angela (Lambert) Jendro|
December 16th, 2017 3rd Sunday in Advent
Gospel of Matthew 22:15-21 NAB
A man named John was sent from God. He came for testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to testify to the light.
And this is the testimony of John. When the Jews from Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to him to ask him, “Who are you?” He admitted and did not deny it, but admitted, “I am not the Christ.” So they asked him, “What are you then? Are you Elijah?” And he said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” He answered, “No.” So they said to him, “Who are you, so we can give an answer to those who sent us? What do you have to say for yourself?” He said: “I am the voice of one crying out in the desert, ‘make straight the way of the Lord,'” as Isaiah the prophet said.” Some Pharisees were also sent. They asked him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ or Elijah or the Prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water; but there is one among you whom you do not recognize, the one who is coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.” This happened in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.
For the second week in a row, we have another Gospel passage about John the Baptist. John is considered the last, and greatest, of the prophets of the Old Covenant. Jesus even said of him, “among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist” (Matthew 11:11). However, both John and Jesus proclaim that even the most magnificent of what has been so far, pales in comparison to the coming of the incarnate God and to His indwelling in the souls of the baptized. Thus, Jesus finishes his sentence with: “yet the least in the Kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”
John the Baptist’s message of repentance and spiritual preparation for our salvation is at the heart of Advent. The weeks leading up to Christmas we evaluate how well we have been living as children of God, gifted with the grace of God dwelling in our midst and within our very souls. It’s also a time to open ourselves to new possibilities and new challenges as disciples of Christ. Thus, the message of John for repentance produces the necessary disposition for conversion.
Last year I wrote about the challenge of keeping John the Baptist in Advent. I’d like to repost that below. John prepared the way of the Lord, and he can help us do the same.
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 Jendro © 2017
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