First Sunday of Advent
December 2, 2018
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
Today is first Sunday of Advent.
Nowadays that doesn’t mean much to a lot of people.
For some it just means there are less than 4 weeks left till Christmas
For most people it has no meaning at all.
Because secular world around us has reduced the 4 weeks before Christmas
into a four-week season celebrating consumerism and sentimentality,
stripping it almost entirely of its real meaning,
which is, of course spiritual and religious.
Now, I’ve always loved this time of year,
both the religious and all the cultural aspects of the season,
though as a young man, sadly, I sometimes neglected the religious
in favor of the cultural or secular.
But when I was very young, a little child,
the line between the two was very much blurred,
in that I understood it was all about preparing to celebrate
the birth of the Baby Jesus on Christmas Day,
and during the Christmas Season.
And all the cultural aspects of the weeks before Christmas, that is during Advent,
all the things like Christmas Trees, and lights, presents, eggnog, parties,
even Santa Claus,
all of this in my little child’s mind
were all part of the joyful preparation for the birth of our Savior.
But I will admit, somewhere along the way, that changed.
When I was a teenager up until a few years out of college,
I approached this time of year more and more
as most of the world does today:
enjoying the consumerism and the sentimentality
more than the true love of Christ.
there was virtually no preparation for Christ involved at all.
Until one Christmas when I was, I think, 25.
I had had a totally secular Advent, not really thinking of it as Advent at all,
but as most people do today, the “holiday season”.
I wasn’t going to Mass at the time,
and I was not what anyone would call a practicing Catholic.
But I had had a great time that holiday season.
I’d taken a few weeks off from work,
and just really enjoyed all the cultural fun, shopping,
going out with friends to plays, movies, and parties
And of course, decorating my new house and putting up my Christmas tree.
It was a great time.
But then it came to Christmas Eve.
And I was at another party with friends, and having a lot of fun.
But I left the party early to do what I had been doing since I was a boy:
to go to Midnight Mass with some old childhood friends.
Now, this was probably the first time I’d been to Mass since the last Christmas.
But, it had become part of my traditional celebration, so I was going.
But not so much because of Jesus,
but because of the sentimentality of going with my dear friends.
But when I got to Mass, I have to tell you, something changed.
I realized that with all the fun, all the gifts, all the lights,
all the good and warm feelings,
something was terribly missing.
It was as if I had been trying desperately to fill a huge hole in my life,
and doing a pretty good job of it.
But not quite.
And as the Mass went on and we got to the Eucharistic prayer,
it stuck me what it was that was missing: Jesus.
You see when I was little,
all the joy of the cultural celebration of the “holiday season,”
all the sentiment in my heart and memories,
in some way had always tied to, flowed from and flowed back to Jesus.
And to the great event of God the Son stripping Himself of the glory of heaven
to come among us, to be with us, to teach us, to form us,
and most of all, to suffer and die for us.
In other words, to love us as only our great God can
—beyond all understanding, beyond all limits.
Now, maybe I was kind of strange little boy.
But thanks to my dear and devout parents, that’s the way I was.
And that’s what Advent meant to me.
And so, for example, while I loved the Christmas tree and all its decorations,
it also always reminded me of Jesus:
the evergreen reminding me of the undying love of Christ,
the lights reminding me of His light shining in darkness,
the wood reminding me of the wood of the Cross,
the red bows and ornaments of His precious blood.
Now, don’t get me wrong—I wasn’t a little saint.
I was as selfish as any child could get
—I was very upset and angry when I didn’t get the pony I was expecting.
But even so, even in my little sins, Jesus could not be separated from all the rest.
And so that Christmas Eve, when I was 25,
as I knelt there at Midnight Mass, listening to the words,
“this is my body… this is the cup of my blood…”
it dawned on me what had been missing.
Those words echoed in my mind and heart,
and I realized that in the depths of my soul, I believed them.
And as the Mass went on, and everyone else went to receive Communion,
I stayed in my pew because I realized I was completely unworthy,
either to receive Jesus in Communion,
or to really celebrate His birth and salvation.
And frankly, my life began to slowly change after that.
Now, I’ve had a long time to think about that night, and that Christmas.
I couldn’t have articulated or explained it all then, but now I think I can.
I love Advent, but I can only really love,
and really experience the depth of hope and joy of the season,
it if I keep Christ and the mystery of His birth right at the middle of everything.
Only if I recognize that the many wonderful things that happen
during these Advent weeks,
including the cultural sites and sounds and celebrations,
are only truly wonderful if I understand them
as a foretaste of the joy of Christmas.
And that Christmas itself is only joyful if I realize
that it is a foretaste of the true and perfect joy
that Christ was born in Bethlehem to bring:
the joy of living with him in this world, every day, every moment.
And the perfection of that joy, when we are united to Him forever
in the glory of heaven
when we will look on the beautiful face of Jesus, face to face, forever.
In other words, the good things of Advent are a foretaste of Christmas,
and Christmas is a foretaste of heaven.
But the thing is, as I realized that night over 30 years ago,
I’m not ready for heaven.
And I am not really ready for a foretaste of heaven either.
So since then, the idea that Advent as a season of preparing for Christmas
has a whole different meaning for me.
Advent must be a time of preparing for heaven,
and for preparing to celebrate the opening of heaven to us,
the day 2000 years ago heaven came down to Earth,
as the almighty God the Son came down to earth as the Baby Jesus.
And so, as the world gets lost in all the hustle and bustle
and all the empty sentimentality of the secular celebration of the holidays,
let’s not let that happen to us.
Focus on heaven, focus on Christmas, focus on Jesus.
Let me be clear: please enjoy all the good things of the season,
of course with moderation and balance,
but let every happy sentiment, memory, party, light, and present
remind you of the true joy, the deep joy, the fullness of joy
that comes only from being and living with Christ.
And so let them remind you to strive to be worthy of that joy,
by preparing for Christmas
through repentance, prayer, sacrifice and a life of generous love, .
When I was a little boy I loved Advent.
But when I was a young man, ensconced in the secular world,
I merely enjoyed the trappings of the season.
And a Mass changed all that.
Christ coming down to earth, body, blood soul and divinity,
reminded me of what was missing.
Open your minds and hearts to Christ, at this Holy Mass,
and throughout this Holy Advent .
Place Him right at the center of every day of Advent,
and prepare yourself
for a worthy celebration of Christmas,
a worthy life of love with Christ on earth,
and a worthy entrance into the Glory of Christ in heaven.