Nov 29, 2015

1 st Sunday of Advent: "Stand erect and raise your heads"

This First Sunday of Advent once again reminds us of the two Christmas seasons we are yearly confronted with: one with Christ and the other without him.

If the point of Christmas is simply an annual time of year when we feel good about each other, when we promote peace and good will between peoples, when we gather with family and friends to exchange gifts in beautiful wrappings, then we have only half the story. Why would we suddenly do this? What motivates us to this sudden change of mood?

While we decorate trees, houses, send cards either via the internet or in old fashioned “snail mail” and collect food and money to give to those less advantaged than ourselves is all good but without Christ, what’s the point?  Why now?  What is it about late December, the world over that makes this a feel good season? Why not do the same in July, February, or September?  Christmas without Christ can be placed anywhere at any time. We should be so generous and charitable all the time yet our secular society suddenly wakes up to the real humanitarian benefits of generosity, charity, and kindness.  But is that all Christmas is for us?  Again, it is only half the story.

The motivation for all this goodness must and can only be a person – Christ Jesus himself. While non-Christians do celebrate Christmas as a festival of good will and perhaps increased financial benefit we Christians must be different.  If our celebration is not centered on Jesus, then we have lost touch with our faith.  The lights, tinsel, trees, and gift giving are all wonderful but Advent provides us that time of preparation to center ourselves on the person of Jesus the real and only reason why we mark December 25th each year as the second greatest feast of our Christian faith – the Resurrection (Easter) being the greatest. 

In this Sunday’s Gospel from Luke we hear an image that I think may sum up what we can do during Advent to prepare and center ourselves.  Jesus tells us: “Stand erect and raise your heads for your redemption is near at hand.” (Lk 21: 28).

Now picture that for a moment.  It is a posture of vulnerability.  Stand up straight with your arms beside your body then raise you head as if looking up to the sky - you’re defenseless and vulnerable.  If someone was to attack you in that posture you would be harmed since your attention is focused on something, or perhaps, someone else.  It is spoken in the context of Christ’s second coming.  Pay attention and be ready to receive him when he comes.

Advent, although an annual liturgical year with its own particular color of violet, its readings from the prophets of Jeremiah and Isaiah and figures of the Gospel story of John the Baptist and Mary, is essentially an attitude of the heart; a kind of posture we take before God: open, vulnerable, receptive and prepared to receive. More presents?  No, to receive Christ Jesus himself who came once 2,000 years ago and who will come again at some future time.  In the meantime, we stand open and receptive to receive him every day as we live now in between those two great events in human history the second of which we be the end of all.  In particular during these weeks of Advent, the Church invites us into a season of preparation to focus our attention on who is the center of Christmas.

If in all the stuff that distracts us during this month of December we lose sight of why we celebrate Christmas, then we our annual "feel good season" is nothing more than an excuse for a party with no real reason behind it other than maybe it’s good once a year to be nice to each other. Think about that for a moment.

So, let us adopt the attitude and the posture before God to “stand erect and raise your heads” in this season of grace.  Our celebration of the Eucharist reminds us that although Christ has left our physical sight he remains present to us under the signs of bread and wine to be our food to strengthen us on our daily journey.  He remains very much present to us in the faith we share, in the kindness and compassion we show to one another, in the scriptures we read and the time we pray, and during Mass in the person of the priest who acts sacramentally in his person. 

There is nothing wrong with feeling good at this time of year but what makes this time any different from another in that regard? Rather, who makes this time different and what difference does he make for me? 

Grant your faithful, we pray, almighty God,
the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ
with righteous needs at his coming,
so that, gathered at his right hand,
they may be worthy to possess the heavenly Kingdom. 

(Collect of Sunday)