Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Advent Reflections

No one can celebrate
a genuine Christmas
without being truly poor.
The self-sufficient, the proud,
those who, because they have
everything, look down on others,
those who have no need
even of God—for them there
will be no Christmas.
Only the poor, the hungry,
those who need someone
to come on their behalf,
will have that someone.
That someone is God.
Emmanuel. God-with us.
Without poverty of spirit
there can be no abundance of God.

- Oscar Romero

This week America begins its mad dash toward Christmas. Or, I should say, America accelerates its mad dash; the move toward the holiday season began some weeks ago. And no, this isn’t the usual anti-commercialism-of-Christmas rant. My dear newsletter reader, you have certainly read enough of those. This year I want to be decidedly pro-Advent.

Advent is a season often misunderstood, a prelude to Christmas festivities. When Advent comes across as merely a liturgical preparation for the celebration of Christmas, it is really nothing more than the Church’s version of the shopping season. Busy, busy, busy, with all the things that need to be done: Christmas pageants, decorating, and all the rest. Alas, another spiritual wasteland!

But Advent is much richer than that, and decidedly counter-cultural. As the Church, we can begin to reclaim a bit of the heart of Christmas by finding some rest and nourishment here in Advent. It’s not so much an anticipation of Christmas Day (Macy’s takes care of that just fine) but rather an anticipation of Christ’s future coming, his Second Advent. The scripture lessons for the season bear this out, speaking of that great and promised time when the nations “shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks,” (Isaiah 2) and when “the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.” (Isaiah 11) “The day is near,” says St. Paul, and he’s not speaking of a magical Christmas morning, as lovely and wonderful as that is; he is speaking of the true day, the coming of the light that shines in the darkness. Advent returns us again to this hope, looking back at the coming of the Savior in Bethlehem, looking forward to his reappearing in glory. It is the hope of creation restored, evil vanquished, and death defeated. Even the most glorious Radio City Christmas show pales in comparison.

Be still, the scripture admonishes us. Tall order, this time of year! Without poverty of spirit, without coming to terms with our deep need and longing for the living God, here and now, it is not possible to celebrate Christmas. I pray that you find—in the midst of the bustle of the season—some inner space, a moment of quiet, perhaps a pang of spiritual hunger. May these short days be filled with great hope, and may that ancient Christian prayer be never far from our lips, “Come, Lord Jesus!”