Merry Christmas??? Yes! Merry Christmas! No, I haven’t mixed up my writing schedule. This is the reflection for the First Sunday of Advent. Christmas Day’s edition will appear in a few very short weeks! Though I join you in acknowledging the time crunch which imposes itself upon us every December, I can’t help turning my thoughts to the Christmas Miracle. My lengthy to-do list hasn’t distracted me from the fact that God isn’t waiting for December 25 to celebrate and neither should we. God touches this earth and each one of us with Divine Love in the present moment just as God has done throughout human history. Today, I encourage you to join me in taking notice…
I admit that I normally become as miffed as anyone at the early arrival of Christmas inventory in shops and malls. Halloween candy and costumes used to give way to these things every November 1. This year, Christmas decorations and cards sat on shelves right next to their Halloween cousins. Oddly, I surprised myself this year when I caught a glimpse of the first wave of decorations for Christmas 2018 and I smiled. The truth is that I welcomed this distraction from the terrible events which have plagued this world for what seems like forever. Though I didn’t need another thing for myself, I browsed among the crèches and nativity statues, trees and ornaments, scented candles, miniature houses and red bows on display. Each one did its part to warm my heart. I truly enjoy the Christmas Season. I always have. This year, I’m especially grateful for this interlude with peace on earth. I hope with all of my heart that you and I will somehow make this peace last throughout the New Year and long afterward.
As I began this writing for the First Sunday of Advent, I contemplated the meaning of these weeks before Christmas. Here at St. Paul’s, we’ll acknowledge Advent with thoughts of love and hope, joy and peace. This is a happy departure from my childhood when we embraced Advent as a penitential waiting period. Our Advent attempts at self-denial resembled our Lenten efforts. The intent was to purify our hearts for the coming of Jesus. Fortunately, we adjusted our tone a bit in the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council. Our somber waiting morphed into joyful anticipation of Jesus’ arrival. Rather than denying ourselves, we engaged in positive activities such as sharing with the less fortunate and behaving more kindly toward one another. Rather than waiting with somber attitudes, we looked toward our commemoration of Jesus’ birth with happy hearts. While I applaud our “joyful anticipation” mode, there is much more to the Advent Season than either approach acknowledges.
You see, as much as I readily embrace the Christmas Season and the goodness that it draws from so many people, I also realize that there is a good deal of sadness in this world of ours. The daily news reminds us that people everywhere suffer greatly. My encounters with people closer to home tell me that many who seem to lead blessed lives quietly bear unspeakable burdens. I’m grateful that the occasional human interest news story reveals the best of life among us. I’m even more grateful when someone nearby shares a small miracle which has touched his or her life. Though these small encounters with joy seem the results of uncommon blessings, the truth is that God’s blessings are with us day in and day out. God’s blessings aren’t doled out in accord with the season at hand. God is present in our lives wherever and whenever God is welcomed to do so. This is also the case when God is unwelcome or denied. The Christmas Miracle is God With Us today and every day until we join God in our forever home.
If this is the case, how do we celebrate Advent? I looked to my dictionary for guidance. “Advent” is derived from the French and Latin words for “arrival; to arrive, happen; to come.” Interesting. For decades, I’ve concentrated on waiting for Christmas. This year, my dictionary and the scriptures tell me that Advent isn’t a time to wait after all. Rather, Advent is an opportunity to acknowledge that, indeed, God has arrived. There is nothing to wait for because God is here. In today’s scriptures, Jeremiah (33:14-16), Paul (Thessalonians 3:12-4:2) and Luke (21:25-28, 34-36) tell us of the signs of what is to come. They call all of God’s people to prepare for those things as best they can. We embrace this challenge by recognizing God who is present among us and within each one of us.
Perhaps those early Christmas marketers had the right idea after all. We should begin to think Christmas thoughts long before Halloween. We should think thoughts of God With Us every day and always! Though we’ll pack away our Christmas decorations with the onset of the new year, we mustn’t pack away our awareness of God’s presence. So it is that I invite you to begin celebrating Christmas 2018 and every Christmas afterward before you read my last line today. When we acknowledge that God is with us, we increase the joy that comes and soften the sorrow that touches us so often. Knowing the I’m not in this alone certainly brings a smile to my face. Imagine what God at your side will do for you! As I wrote above, “Merry Christmas!”
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