My friends, Advent is upon us! This is one of my favorite times in the Church Year! It is a bit counter-culture as the season calls forth from us a time of quiet and simple preparation unlike the pace that many of us keep during the holiday season. Advent though, is a time of taking stock of who we are as followers of our brother Jesus, Emmanuel, “God with us!”
In the culture in which we live, as soon as Thanksgiving is over, the push is on for Christmas to come. That is not bad in itself, because for many, Christmas marks a joy-filled time spent with family and friends and we want to be about that! But, setting something wonderful aside for a time and working toward it makes the celebration all the more wonderful when it does come.
I can remember when I was in grade school at Cathedral here in Winona. One of the practices we had which originated with one of the Sisters was to present us with the empty crib at the beginning of Advent and a bowl full of straw that we could line Jesus’ crib with—on this particular year, I even brought the straw from my grandparents’ farm in Rollingstone, which made the ritual even more special. We were told we could put one piece of straw in for each good deed that we did throughout Advent. By Christmas time there was enough straw to make a comfy bed for the baby Jesus.
This is a simple practice, but it called our attention to the fact that we must prepare ourselves to receive such a good guest, just as we prepare our physical homes when guests are coming.
Now as an adult, blessed with pastoring this good parish of believers; I still see my personal and ministerial task of preparing myself and guiding you all as well to becoming “shining lights” as it were, to better assist our brother Jesus in being seen in the world in which we all live. Jesus will only be seen in our world if we allow him to be through our actions of reaching out to those in need, perhaps through food collections, through assisting at the Warming Center for the homeless, by our presence or by our gifting of warm clothing and monetary gifts, through our monthly meals at the Catholic Worker House and through our generous gifts to the Food Shelf of Winona Volunteer Services—we are presently in the Ten Days of Giving for this cause—I know you will be generous! And as all of you may be aware, soon there will be the opportunity to assist our immigrant brothers and sisters through the Sanctuary Program here which has taken an additional step with Wesley United Methodist church agreeing to be the “host” congregation to house those needing protection as they strive to get paperwork in place and move toward citizenship.
Catholic social justice programs have always talked about “our time and our talent” as ways through which we can give back to others in gratitude for all that our God has given to us. The Second Reading today from 1 Thessalonians says as much, “May our Savior make you grow and overflow with love for one another.”
Besides being aware of giving to others during Advent as a way to prepare for the Season of Christmas; the next best thing or perhaps it is the best thing that we can do is to allow the Christmas story to become real in our lives.
Remembering that Jesus’ earthly mother, Mary, was but a young woman and faced with a monumental decision, to become the mother of the Messiah. Clearly, if she said, “yes,” this would forever change her life.
Let’s complicate things even further and say that the relationship between Mary and Joseph was a love relationship, not one of an old man, and a young girl, as sometimes depicted on Christmas cards with the man’s role being more of a guardian, than a loving spouse. Let’s try and understand what it might have been like for Joseph to hear that his beloved was already pregnant with someone else’s child, even if that someone was God!
My friends, we only have our humanity with which to make sense of such a story and it is, I suggest, that through our humanity that this story can really become most beautiful to us. Advent is a time to really ponder the mystery of all that was being asked of this young couple from Nazareth over 2,000 years ago. Put yourself in their places and think of your own significant relationships in life. How would you have responded to being asked to put your own intimate plans aside in order to say, “Yes” to God?
I believe it is only in making this biblical story personal that we can truly find the meaning of the holy season of Advent or of any season in our Church Year. In our world today; we are being asked as followers of our brother Jesus to give birth to him just as surely as Mary and Joseph did all those years ago.
Through All Are One’s commitment as a Sanctuary Partner Congregation; we give Jesus, birth in our world—when we stand up for those who have fallen on hard times, the refugee, the lonely, the lost; we give Jesus birth in our world—when we hear others’ stories with compassion, and a desire to understand; we give birth to Jesus in our world.
Our world at present my friends, in our country and Church especially, never needed “the birthing” of Jesus more! Through our speech, our actions of solidarity with those in need, our truthfulness about what is right and what is wrong, beyond ourselves; we will prepare in the very best ways to receive Jesus into our hearts at Christmas time. And with that focus, all the festive preparations—colorful trees, special foods, gifts to one another, time with family and friends, take on the special glow of God-with-us!
The Gospel today from Luke instructs us well in not letting ourselves “be bloated” [with the things of this world, but that we would] “stay alert, pray constantly” [for all the ways that we can make the plight of others better, basically doing what Jesus did]. The prophet Jeremiah says, “In those days, Judah will be safe and Jerusalem will be secure.” Have a happy and hope-filled Advent! Amen? Amen!