No one can deny the great efforts being made to restore the integrity of Christmas as a true celebration of faith in the Nativity of Jesus Christ. Take a quick look at some of our parish bulletins at this time of year and youll see some great things. More than ever, our parishes are taking great care to organize prayerful Advent programs to promote the true spirit of the season.
I spotted a bumper sticker that proclaimed: Put Christ Back in Christmas. Especially at this holy time of year, we, as people of faith, ought to be strong in the conviction that our faith and devotion are a powerful and countercultural response to the materialism of the consumer society. Our observance of Advent as Catholics is our strongest response to a frenzied holiday season of shopping, office parties, social events and greeting cards.
The season of Advent affords all Christians time to appreciate the greatest affirmation man has ever received the Nativity of the Savior. We cant rush through these weeks of Advent; the message is too important, too needed today. God loves you so much he comes in the humility of the crib.
The birth of God as man is itself an act by God of profound humility. The Christ is not to be found in a palace or in a family of social advantage. Without any loss to his Godliness, Jesus is born in the poverty of the stable. He takes on flesh and all that being human entails save sin. God humbles himself to show us Gods way of love (Ps 25:9).
Gods experience of poverty isnt limited to the economic, either. Jesus enters the poverty of all mankind. God, who is love, comes to know the ravages of our human pain, prejudice and persecution from within the frame of human experience. God comes with glorious works not for his sake, but ours (Is 11:1-10). God comes in a free act of love, to be with us just as one friend lovingly desires time with the other friend. With this wonderful expression of Gods love for mankind, we, as the people of God, are filled with great anticipation, hope and joy.
Especially on the third Sunday of Advent, known as Gaudete Sunday, the Church notes with special joy the promise of redemption of mankind by Jesus Christ. In a special way, our celebration is with the Lord whose wonders were proclaimed to the disciples of John the Baptist: Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them (Mt 11:4-5).
Unlike any other time of year, this holy season can lift our collective spirit and renew within us the purity of and the call to holiness. We rejoice, for our salvation is promised in the coming of Gods Anointed: Let the earth open and salvation bud forth, let justice also spring up! I, the Lord, have created this (Is 45:8). This joyful hope and spiritual expectation called Advent not only prepare us for our observance of the Nativity, but also turn our minds and hearts to the Second Coming of the Savior. Thus, this season of preparation invites us to recall our destiny in and with God in heaven.
The community of faith gathers for this child, the Savior. Joseph was promised in a dream: He will save his people from their sins (Mt 1:21). Here, the Savior calls to all mankind: Turn to me and be safe, all you ends of the earth, for I am God; there is no other... To me every knee shall bend; by me every tongue shall swear, saying Only in the Lord are just deeds and power (Is 45:21-23)!
With this call to salvation and its grace of eternal life, the humble Nativity elevates our conversion to a place in the light. Let us then throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light (Rom 13:12). By heeding Advents quiet expectation of salvation, all the earth may be filled with Gods glory (Ps 72:19).
Seen through the eyes of faith, Advent is both a season of preparation for the great feast of Christmas and a revelation of humanitys anticipation of eternal life. While society often is driven by distracting secular forces, Christians must observe Advent as a sincere occasion of faith. As we recall the coming of Christ as human and God, we also are to consider the Second Coming of Christ.
Living with all the trappings of the holiday season can be Christ-centered. We need to remind ourselves of the true meaning of our decorations and gift-giving.
With the malls and shopping plazas saturated with richly decorated trees, flashing lights and holiday sales, we can choose to remain free of holiday stress by keeping Christ as the reason for the season. May we all recapture the true sense of anticipation for the Saviors coming and the Christ Childs gift of eternal life.
Hark, the angels of God rejoice, for faith, hope and love are born for all mankind.
Father Hinkley is the Pastor of Blessed Sacrament Parish and the Shrine of St. Anne for Mothers, both in Waterbury.