2nd Sunday of Advent
Excerpt from Take Time For Him: Simple, Soulful Gospel Meditations to Ignite the Busy Person’s Spiritual Life (click to order your own copy from Amazon! Remember to rate it and leave a review!)
Gospel of Matthew 3:1-12
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 Santa and reindeer more appealing for sales than a desert ascetic speaking about sin, but the ubiquitous advertising easily obscures the serious spiritual work we are meant to do. People also feel ever more pressure 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. Even worse, it has completely usurped Advent in our culture, making it seem nearly impossible in the four weeks leading up to Christmas to make time for introspection, increased prayer, and sacrifice. On the flip side, 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 and we feel we are celebrating alone.
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. Each person must determine how to be “in the world but not of the world” (cf. 1 John 2) in their own situation. For myself, I have surrendered the Christmas tree battle and get one the weekend after Thanksgiving. I love Christmas trees, and if I’m going to go to all the work of decorating it with the kids, I want it to last as long as possible! I also must admit that I look forward to the Hallmark Christmas movies that start up on Thanksgiving and, if possible, make a weekend of it during Advent 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 the real Christmas season. I play Christmas music all the way to the Epiphany even though secular stations have returned to their normal broadcasting. I keep my Christmas decorations out (except for 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.
Amidst the early holiday cheer and parties however, spiritual sacrifice, examination of conscience, and remorse for sins is harder to carve time for, and yet the most important. When the kids were little, I 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. I would recommend adding one of these events to your calendar just as you would any Christmas party invitation.
Fasting during advent is especially difficult, with so many Christmas parties and cookie exchanges taking place, but consider fasting from something simple and achievable, so that even during the celebration, you remain connected to Christ and honor 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, especially something you tend to overindulge in. Maybe you decide you will only have one adult beverage at the Christmas party or one desert, or you resolve to bite your tongue when tempted to gossip about a coworker of family member.
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 did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did it for me” (Matthew 25:40). 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. Christmas get-togethers bring out the best and the worst in people. The heightened social contact creates situations for enjoyable fellowship but also tense discord. Here we can practice the spiritual works of mercy. We can fast from gossip and give encouragement, fast from pettiness and bear wrongs patiently, fast from competitiveness and offer warmth. When we encounter someone, 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 it took to get there. This Advent I hope you can find a way to prepare your heart and your life for Christ a little more in some small way. I hope you experience the peace from repenting of sin to receive His generous healing. Let’s demonstrate our authentic gratitude for his grace through prayer and acts of love. 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
- 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
- Put a church sponsored Advent or Christmas event on your calendar, then attend
- Fast from gossip and critical
- Intentionally give to Christ, above your regular Choose a charity or a particular person and be generous to Jesus by being generous to them.
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Additional Recommendations for Spiritual Reading:
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- Interior Freedom by Jacques Philippe
- Abandonment to Divine Providence by Jean Pierre de Caussade (a spiritual classic, my absolute favorite)
- The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence
- The Life of Christ by Fulton Sheen
- Ignatius Catholic Bible: Revised Standard Version, Burgundy, Zipper Duradera (this is the bible I use for my personal prayer. I love it)