Greetings, SBT Readers!
As a child, I found waiting for Christmas to be interminably long. A "true believer" until about eight years of age, I couldn't wait for my Christmas stocking, as well as for caroling with friends, family rituals around tree and table, and all the sights and sounds of the season. Family Christmases seemed idyllic and if there were drama behind the scenes, I was totally clueless as to what was going on. Sadly, as an adult I am sharply aware of the discrepancy between the ideal and the reality. Not only are there empty places around the table, reminding us of those who are no longer with us (or of those who are unable to join us or who choose to absent themselves), but then it seems that the season can bring out the worst in us. Scrooge and the Christmas Grouch are never too far from any household, it seems. Christmas gets "stolen" by the worst of human instincts -- narcissism, inflexibility, moodiness, lack of gratitude, insensitivity, over indulgence, gossip, complaining, and so forth. In minutes, the "festive home" can become a war zone as family members disagree over politics, critique each other's children, remember past gripes, flaunt new possessions or achievements, or whine over inheritance issues.... The Christ Child makes His exit with the rest of the Holy Family, and there's nothing left to salvage of the "Christmas spirit."
As we move into Advent, a helpful practice would be to take an honest look at our typical Christmas attitudes and behaviors: Do we build up or tear down? Are we Christ-bearers or are we clothed in negative energy? Do we serve or do we expect others to serve us? Do we manifest joy or do we display anger, hostility, passive-aggression? If we are to "put on Christ" this Christmas, a starting point would be to practice being Christ during Advent!
Link to the Sunday Readings
"Therefore, stay awake!
For you do not know the day when your Lord will come.
But understand this: if the master of the house
had known the hour of night when the thief was coming,
he would have stayed awake
and not let his house be broken into.
So too, you must also be prepared,
for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come."
The scene is compelling-- Isaiah's vision of God's House, set on the highest mountain, towering over hills and valleys, yet accessible to all the world's people fills us with expectation. As we behold vast throngs making the ascent to God's House, we are filled with hope; for a few moments, we might even be lulled into thinking that this is the Third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday, when we light the pink candle on our Advent wreaths to symbolize joy. After all, Isaiah predicts a time when swords will be beaten into ploughshares and all wars shall cease. The refrain, "Come, let us climb the Lord's mountain!," resounds across the plains and the nations converge, eager to ascend into God's House, ready to embrace God's justice...
No, we are ahead of ourselves. The psalm refrain, "Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord" (Ps. 122), holds the promise of joy to come because we are on our way but we have not yet arrived. Jerusalem, the Holy City, awaits us, as does God's Holy Mountain, but as St. Paul points out, each traveler must prepare for this journey by throwing off the "works of darkness" and putting on the "armor of light" (Rom 13:11-14); in fact, we must "put on Christ" (Rom 13:14). That is, we must become the Christ!
Paul's message tones down the shades of pink (or rose, to be more liturgically correct) and helps us focus on the Gospel. Jesus' message is sobering: we must be prepared at all times, watchful and awake, as the Son of Man will come like a thief
in the night, when least expected. Now, we are back to penitential purple. La Divina Commedia comes to mind. Like the poet Dante, we need to assess where we are (lost in a Dark Wood?) and identify what we must do if we are to reach the Paradiso (the summit of God's Holy Mountain). For Dante, the journey involves a descent into hell whereby he can see the ugliness of sin and his own propensity towards lust, pride and greed (symbolized by the leopard, the lion and the wolf). Only then can he wash the filth of hell from his eyes and behold the stars, ascending the purgatorial mount which will strip him of his sinful nature.
And so it is with us. The Holy Mountain awaits but we can only enter God's House when we put our own "house" in order. Of course, this should be a regular practice, but most of us need Advent's reminder that there is a world beyond this world and an experience of God's Presence that depends upon our waking up. To be awake to life means to be conscious and this, in turn, involves leaving behind "the beasts" which inhabit us and distort our ways of seeing, thinking and being; only then will we be prepared for Christ's coming this Christmas and for His return at the end of Time. Yes, joy has its place in our journey, but it is the joy of knowing that forgiveness and mercy are ours, despite our shortcomings, and that, through God's grace, we can -- and will-- become a new creation.
* What time are you setting aside for self-reflection this Avent?
* Dante had to contend with the leopard, the lion and the wolf. What "beasts" control you?
*What does it mean "to put on Christ"?
* What words and images resonate with you the most in this Sunday's readings?
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that sanity will prevail and that all those suffering on account of the terrible conflict in Ukraine will find the comfort and resources they need.