1st Sunday of Advent
November 27, 2016
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
“So too, you also must be prepared.”
After seeing all the folks shopping on Friday—“Black Friday”—
this line spoken by Jesus is today’s Gospel
would seem extremely apropos today.
We’ve begun the “holiday season” and the next four weeks will be a mad rush
to shop, cook, travel and party,
all to be “prepared for Christmas.”
Of course, all this is strictly the secular—or worldly—perspective
of preparing for Christmas, and the “holiday season.”
At best it sees Christmas as all about sentimentalism:
remembering the good feelings of Christmases past,
sometimes even with a quasi-religious tone,
with vague notions and warm feelings about the baby Jesus,
and peace and goodwill among men.
At worst it sees Christmas as all about rank materialism and escapism
—buying, getting and using things to dull the pain of the rest of the year.
All this is often referred to as “the Joy of Christmas.”
But of course, at best this is just a mere reflection of the real Joy of Christmas,
and at worst it’s merely a shadow of that joy,
and sometimes a very dark shadow.
Because the true Joy of Christmas radiates from the Baby Jesus,
not as the object of mere sentimentality and warm feelings,
but rather as the personification, in the flesh, of God Himself.
As St. John tells us:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,
that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
…that the world might be saved through him.”
And so he would become the one of whom Isaiah prophesied:
“He was wounded for our transgressions,
he was bruised for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that made us whole,
and with his stripes we are healed.”
Because we are sinners, he came to die on the Cross to save us from own sins.
Because we failed to love Him and each other as we should,
he loved us so much he was born to die for us.
And all this began when he came to us as the tiny innocent Baby Jesus.
This love is truly breathtaking: the source of the true joy of Christmas.
Now, some might be saying, Father that’s depressing
—talk of sin and death and all.
But it’s really not.
Because it’s only when we recognize that we are sinners,
and the depth and breadth of our own sins,
that we can realize the depth and breadth of the Love that God has for us
—the love that is compacted and contained
in the body of the babe born of the Virgin Mary.
It’s only when we open our hearts to sorrow for our offenses against that love
that we can feel the immensity of the joy of being forgiven,
and of living life surrounded and immersed in that love.
From the depths of our sins to the heights of His love
—this is what the Birth of the Baby Jesus brings us.
And also, the personalization of this love in the Baby Jesus.
This God of Love who, having saved us by his death,
seeks now to have a personal relationship with each of us:
to be our true friend and brother,
not for one day or month of the year,
but every single moment of our lives on earth,
and forever in heaven.
All this, this is the Joy of Christmas.
But, again, as Jesus reminds us: “So too, you also must be prepared.”
Christians must prepare for Christmas Joy by first
reflecting on our sins, confessing them, and repenting.
How can we rejoice in embracing the Baby Jesus
if we continue to embrace the sins he was born to die for?
But again, not mired in despair or sadness.
But rather in moving from sin to love, we move from sorrow to joy,
and we understand, appreciate and experience joy in a whole new way!
Like a man thirsting in the desert discovers a whole new appreciation
for the sweet taste of a cup of water.
And so we do penance in Advent.
Not like in Lent, but we should do some small penance to remind us of our sins,
and our need to place God above all things.
This can be hard to do during Advent,
with all the good things around us
—the cookies, candy, the gifts and parties.
But that also makes it the best time to do penance,
as even the smallest sacrifice can take on a certain heroic proportion.
And since sin is a lack or failure to love God and our neighbor,
Advent should also be a time of charity and good works,
Thankfully, the secular celebration around us can sometimes encourage this,
as most of society embraces the idea of charity during “the holidays.”
Unfortunately the secular celebration can also tempt us away from this,
as it simultaneously encourages both kindness and selfishness.
Think, for example, of all the advertising:
even as it encourages parents to give generous gifts to their kids,
it also encourages the children
to want and even expect those generous gifts.
So don’t give to charities because everyone else is;
give because you love your neighbor, even if he’s a complete stranger;
and give because you love Jesus and see his face in the face of the needy.
But if you really want to experience the true Joy of Christmas, one thing remains.
Christ came in the flesh to personally die for you and your personal sins,
because he loves you as a unique individual person.
How do we find the joy of living with Christ as your constant friend and brother
if you don’t talk to him, and listen to him.
So Advent must be a time of prayer.
That’s all prayer is: listening and talking to God, or His angels and saints.
So, take time every day in Advent to pray,
and if you already do that, pray a little more, or a little better.
I especially encourage you to pray by reading and meditating on Scripture,
especially the first chapters of the four gospels, where they talk about
the beginnings of Jesus, by reading holy books,
or a good biography of a saint.
Most especially pray the Rosary, particularly meditating on the Joyful Mysteries.
Pray it alone, or pray it with your spouse or family,
or with your friends, especially you boyfriend or girlfriend.
Even better, come to Mass more often – even an extra day during the week,
or every day.
Now, all of this might lead you to think that I think
all the shopping, gifts, decorations and parties in the next 4 weeks
are somehow bad, or at least inappropriate during Advent.
It’s true that I do believe those things can tend to conflict
with the preparation necessary during Advent
and a truly Christian celebration of Christmas.
But on the other hand, there are two things to remember.
First, the celebration that goes on around us leading up to Christmas
has truly Christian origins
and continues to at least reflect Christian culture and doctrine.
So to the extent we keep all this in the context
of the true meaning of Advent and Christmas
then it can be a good and holy thing.
So, if we remember that the evergreen Christmas tree represents the tree of life,
and if we see the ornaments as representing
the individual lives of Christians and angels, or other gifts from God.
Or if we remember that Christmas gift-giving ties us back to
The gift of God of His Son, or the gifts of the magi,
and the birthday presents we bring to Christ.
And so on.
If we remember all this, and teach our children all this,
then all these can be true signs of Christmas,
and they can be a good and holy thing during Advent.
But most of all, this celebration still serves to bring the world’s attention
to Jesus Christ, even if only superficially.
In today’s second reading St. Paul tells us:
“let us conduct ourselves properly …
not in orgies and drunkenness,
not in promiscuity and lust,
not in rivalry and jealousy.”
Think about how many so called “Christmas parties” he might be describing.
Whether an office party, or the party of friends coming back from school,
or even the most innocent of parties with family
and even friends from church.
Even the simple act of exchanging gifts can turn into the occasion
for what Paul calls “rivalry and jealousy.”
But imagine if we approached every Christmas party as Christians on a mission.
Think about it:
all those people getting together, seeking to discover the Joy of Christmas.
What if instead of drinking too much, you set a good example of temperance.
Or instead of taking part in gossip or off-color conversations
you encouraged a wholesome exchange of ideas and true wit?
What if you simply showed the love of Christ by being kind and attentive
to that person everyone was avoiding?
Or what if you tried in some way to even talk about Jesus
to those who seemed open to hearing?
For example, you might share how much you enjoyed going to Christmas Mass,
and maybe even invite someone to join you?
And even in the simpler events of “the season.”
Give your kids the game they asked for, but also give them a Bible,
or good book about a great saint
Or instead of asking for that piece of jewelry from your husband,
maybe simply ask him to pray the Rosary with you.
And when you think someone else got a better gift than you, don’t be jealous;
instead be happy for them, and thankful for what you got.
“So too, you …must be prepared.”
As we begin this Holy Season of Advent,
let’s not get all caught up in the externals,
especially in the materialism or bane sentimentality,
Don’t be tempted by the false joys of the world.
Rather let’s keep our hearts and lives focused on the true Joy of Christmas,
and spend time and effort preparing to experience and celebrate that Joy.
Let it be a time of remembering the awesome Love of the God
who was born as a tiny baby so he could grow up to save us from our sins
and so to offer us a share in his own life.
A time of penance, of charity, and prayer.
And a time of sharing the true Joy of Christmas with those around us,
by living the life of Love Christ calls us to,
and by telling everyone we meet about
the magnificent Love of God made flesh in the person of
the Baby Jesus.