Fr. Charles Irvin
If we were in a class studying sacred scripture and I were to ask you for the one word that sums up the theme of today’s Advent readings, what would be that word? The answer I would be looking for is “preparation.”
But “preparing for what?” would be my next question. The simple answer would of course be “The birth of Christ.” But we all recognize, I’m sure, that the answer is more complex.
To dig deeper, Mother Church takes us back to the world in which God was remote, distant, unapproachable, and seemingly unavailable to us. Holy Mother Church takes us back to the centuries and ages before our Messiah arrived. She does this in order to ask us the question: What is the meaning of your life without God in it? That question, as we all know, is a current question — not simply an ancient one. Where is God in our human, lived-out world today?
All around us we see people whose lives are lived absent from God. We need also to recognize our own personal moments of discomfort when we face the fact that many days of our lives are lived apart from God’s presence. God is absent in the lives of many of those around us. Some of our contemporaries even claim God is dead. Others claim the idea of God is a crutch invented by weak humans beings, people lacking personal strength and courage who invented God in order to prop themselves up.
It seems evident to me that we need some major reconstruction this Advent, not just redecoration. Are we preparing for Christ’s birth simply by getting presents, buying and decorating a Christmas tree, or in sending out Christmas cards? Mind you, all of those things are good in themselves. But aren’t we facing an issue that’s much more important, namely the absence of God in our lives?
It’s a question of making room, giving a place for God to enter into our space and time.
Every year as Christmas approaches we witness the public, on-going debate over the place of God in our nation’s culture. Conflicts arise in our public schools over Christmas carols and Christmas symbols. We’ve just come out of a great public debate over the place of the Ten Commandments in our public buildings. Lawsuits arise each year over whether or not God should be privatized. With each passing year, it seems to me, we move farther and farther away from the position taken by our nation’s Founding Fathers, a position that grounded the future of our republic on a moral and legal basis that recognized the rights implanted in us by God, rights not able to be given or taken away by our government’s executive, legislative, or judicial branches.
Is there room for God in our civic life? Is it not permissible for Christians to publicly acknowledge the Christ of Christmas? I fear that Christians are sacrificing their beliefs on the altar of political correctness to an extent never contemplated by the framers of our Constitution.
The season of Advent is, after all is said and done, something to be celebrated in our own homes and churches. Here, again, it’s a question of making room, dedicating space and time to seeing and acknowledging the approach and presence of God to us personally, and in our families. It’s a time of spiritual renewal, a time of renewed spiritual consciousness.
Why not go about this renewal in a planned and thoughtful way? With our children we can open a door each day on an Advent calendar, thus heightening their anticipation of the great day of Christmas, now just over two weeks away.
We can convert our frustrations into opportunities to turn to God. When we’re stuck in traffic we can use the time to pray or talk with God. When we’re making a phone call and put on hold we can convert that time from being a period of frustration to an Advent waiting time. After all, isn’t Advent a time of waiting? Of hopeful expectancy?
Then, too, there are Advent penance services in our parish. Our children’s religious education classes [and our parish school] have special Christmas plays and parties. Why not commit ourselves to make them a part of our Advent time?
Will you be going to an office party or some other festive event where you work? Well, then, wear something that has to do with Christ’s birth instead of simply going along with a generalized celebration of a secular “Winter Wonderland” holiday.
It is said that Christmas is for children. There is truth in that sentiment. It is said that Christmas is the celebration of family. There is truth in that sentiment also. Nevertheless we shouldn’t overlook the fact that the celebration of Christ’s birth is for each one of us, personally and individually. The wood of the crib will eventually become the wood of the cross. It is because of Christmas that we will have a Good Friday and an Easter Sunday, the ultimate celebration of God’s coming to us. We should not fail to notice that on December 26th we remember the First Martyr, St. Stephen, and on December 28th re remember the slaughter of the Holy Innocents.
Advent, then, is a time when we pay attention to the fact that God came to us in Jesus Christ, born of the Virgin Mary in the wonder of stars and angels over Bethlehem. And Advent likewise looks for the coming of God to us at the end of our world when the elements of the universe will shaken, the stars will fall from heaven, and the sun and moon will no longer give us light.
But today we need to pay attention to the coming of God to us in the here and now, not just in our distant past or in our remote future. Today, in God’s everlasting “Now” we need to pay attention to what Advent brings us – those wonderful moments when we can, right now, make space and time for God to enter into us, into our lives, our time, our hearts and our souls, there to tell us the only truth that really matters, namely that He loves us.