Keeping Christ in Christmas & John the Baptist in Advent

Excerpt from Take Time For Him: Some More

by Angela M Jendro

Order your paperback or e-book from Amazon!

3rd Sunday of Advent

Read the Gospel of John 1:6-8, 19-28

Meditation Reflection:

For the second week in a row, we have a 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 risen no one greater than John the Baptist” (Matthew 11:11).   Yet, both John and Jesus proclaimed that the best was yet to come.  The Covenant of the Jewish people with God would be elevated inexpressibly in the New Covenant established in Jesus Christ.  Thus, Jesus finished his sentence with: “yet he who is 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.  In 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. 

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 but 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 to New Year’s preparations and Valentine’s day.

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 only.  I play Christmas music and keep my Christmas decorations out (with the exception of the live tree) for the duration of the liturgical Christmas season.  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 my 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.  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.

Consider:

  •  “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?

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.

© 2020 Angela M Jendro

* To receive these weekly posts automatically in your email just click the “follow” tab in the bottom right hand corner and enter your email address. You can also follow me @taketimeforhim on Twitter and Facebook.


Making Room for Christ to Come

Excerpt from Take Time For Him: Some More

by Angela M Jendro

Order your paperback or e-book from Amazon!

2nd Sunday of Advent

Read the Gospel of Mark 1:1-8

Meditation Reflection:

It’s a good time of year for making room – in our closets, our homes, our schedules, and our lives for all the gifts, parties, and people that accompany Christmas. We live in a challenging culture for this.  Its obsession with stuff has gotten out of control, necessitating storage units just to hold the overflow. Rampant competitiveness in seemingly every area of life adds pressure to our schedule, forcing our waking hours to overflow into the late night and early mornings just to keep up.  You may be able to stay afloat in this atmosphere for a while, but the pressure and the pace are unsustainable without sacrificing more important things. In an effort to combat this, I regularly sort through our things and reassess our schedule of activities to ensure we can prioritize what matters.

Advent provides an opportunity for us to do the same thing in our spiritual lives. In anticipation of the greatest gift – Jesus Christ, the Son of God – we must make room in our souls, our schedules, and our lives.  Its a time to step back and make an honest examination of what occupies our hearts.  Much like when I hold up an old sweater and debate whether I will really wear it again or not, I must examine the things I spend time and energy on and ask if they are still worth it, or just taking up valuable space.

If it’s so difficult to let go of an old ratty sweater overrun with pills, how much more difficult to let go of old bad habits or frames of mind?  We hold on to useless or worn out things simply because we hate change and we love nostalgia.  We may rationalize that we will “use that someday” but we don’t even know all the “thats” we have anymore.  In truth, we simply don’t want to let go of something that’s been with us for so long.

Similarly, we resist honestly evaluating our priorities, bad habits and sins.  In some ways they can begin to feel like a part of our identity.  However, the process of decluttering our soul can be marvelously freeing and enable us to move forward in our lives.  The questions we must ask will vary as much as the clutter in our homes.  You may have to consider, “Am I a hard worker, or have I become a workaholic?” Or the opposite: “Do I have a healthy amount of down time in my life, or have I just become lazy?”  About attitudes one might ask “Am I someone who doesn’t get riled up about much, or am I just complacent?” or the opposite: “Am I someone who cares passionately about things, or do I make an idol out of causes or get too involved in other people’s business?” 

Outside perspective can help.  If you share a closet, garage, or home with someone, they will quickly tell you which items have been hogging space for no reason.   Loving family and friends can also offer valuable insight about your life.  They can more easily identify the ways you have grown as a person and the things that hold you back.  The Holy Spirit can also guide you if you ask.  He can enlighten your mind to see things from God’s perspective and soothe you with grace to let the lesser goods go.

After decluttering, the final preparations for Christmas celebrations involve cleaning.  Mineral build up on the faucet, sticky fingerprints and globs of ketchup on the refrigerator, half-finished projects that have become an eyesore or safety hazard, and dusty surfaces dull the beauty of our homes.  It takes time and sweat, but the shiny glean in every room renews our appreciation of God’s gifts and the warmth of home. In the same way, our virtues and gifts can dull from the challenges of everyday life.   Stepping back for a little introspection can help us reclaim those pieces of ourselves we love and let them shine again. 

During our Advent soul-work, we may find some things need to go, some things may be reasonable to keep, and some things may need a deep clean. Yet, at the end of the process our souls will glimmer with the beauty God has given us, and Christ will have more room to fill with the gift of His divine presence and peace.  

Consider:

  • Prayerfully list your priorities.  Where do God, work, family, friends, hobbies, and self-care rank?
  • Consider your schedule: How well do you balance time for God, time for taking care of yourself, time for helping others, and time to accomplish your work well?
  • Consider your possessions:  How well do your things represent your priorities?  Are there ways your possessions could better reflect what matters to you?
  • Consider your heart:  What occupies your desires most?  Be honest.  Then relate them back to your priority list.  Prayerfully ask the Holy Spirit to increase your desire for the Lord and for loving relationship with others, and to decrease your desire for what competes with them.
  • Consider your mind:  What occupies your thoughts?  What do you spend time learning about?  How well are you making time for introspection and spiritual growth?  Do you take the time to think of others or to identify your own needs?  What tends to distract you or consume your mind? How might you detach somewhat?

Practical Application:

  • Make room for Christ in your home, your schedule, and your heart.  Declutter your biggest horde, simplify your time commitments, and increase your prayer and spiritual reading by 10 minutes.
  • Do an examination of conscience and encounter Christ in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

© 2020 Angela M Jendro

* To receive these weekly posts automatically in your email just click the “follow” tab in the bottom right hand corner and enter your email address. You can also follow me @taketimeforhim on Twitter and Facebook.