TEXT: 2nd Sunday of Advent, December 6, 2015
Second Sunday of Advent
December 6, 2015
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
Sometimes things can seem hopeless.
The terrorist attacks in San Bernardino and Paris over the last few weeks
are cold reminders of what sometimes seems to be
the world’s increasingly rapid spiral into an abyss of trouble and despair.
It seems hopeless some days.
And then we hear:
“Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.
Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low.
The winding roads shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth,
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”
And we remember that as Christians must can never give in
to hopelessness or despair.
And, even as we mourn and pray for the dead,
and pray for all who hate us,
and gird our loins to battle to defend ourselves from evil on every side,
we remember that this is the season of Advent,
the season of preparing to celebrate the Coming of our Savior,
the prince of peace, the Lord of Lord, the King of Kings,
the savior of the World.
In short, my friends, we are in the season of hope.
To some that kind of talk might seem naïve or ignorant:
they say, what do we have to hope in?
Not God, they say: according the New York Daily News, “God isn’t fixing things.”
But who are really the ignorant ones?
The secular culture around is constantly talking to us about God
but they really are clueless about him.
Because our hope is not in a God who simply “fixes things.”
He’s not a God who does as we command,
but a God who has mercy on us
even when we make so many problems for ourselves that need fixing.
This ignorance of God is rampant today,
and it leads otherwise good people,
who in their heart of hearts yearn for a savior,
to place their hope in all the wrong things.
Some, for example, place their hope in a false prophet who lived 13 centuries ago
and wielded a bloody sword
and seems to them today to be sending them out
to kill anyone who will not submit to their understanding of his teachings.
Others place their hope in a new social and moral order,
thinking everything that came before is bad
and everything new or different must be good.
Others place their hope in politicians, or laws or in government.
Others place their hope in riches and wealth.
And still others place their hope in various forms of delusions or escapism,
in drugs, or sex or fantasy or even simple sentimentalism.
We see all this in a very unique and intense way during the Advent season.
This wonderful season of hope in our Savior, Jesus Christ,
that so many around us seem to completely separate from Him,
and yet still seek to keep as a season of hope,
but hope in all the wrong things.
They focus on gifts given and received
—especially expensive gifts that they hope will make them happy
or buy happiness for someone else.
Or they place their hope in the sentimental feelings of the season,
of family memories or family get-togethers
—even though these sentiments will most probably pass away
with the last day of December,
the temporary good feelings giving way to the old despair.
Or they hope in the sights and sounds and tastes of the season
–lights and decorations and Christmas cookies,
that remind them of happier days,
but leave them with nothing but nice memories.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with these things:
with gifts, or warm feelings, or Christmas trees or eggnog.
In fact, most of these things have their roots in the Christian celebration of Advent—they belong to us!
The warm feelings of the season used to flow from the perfect love flowing
from the Divine Babe lying in a manger.
The Christmas tree—the ever-green tree in the midst of the cold winter—
once symbolized the ever-lasting life of Christ
in the face of the coldness of death
—the tree of life in the garden of Eden, and on the hill of Calvary.
And the lights on those trees once represented the true light of Christ
shining through the holy lives of the multitude of saints in heaven and on earth.
The Christmas delicacies reminded us of the richness of the heavenly banquet
hosted by the Savior himself.
We could go on and on.
But now all these things, these mere symbols,
that were once expressions of our hope in Christ,
now, for too many people, have become the object of their hope.
But love without Christ quickly turns to rank and insipid sentimentality.
The exchange of presents without Christ soon falls into crass materialism.
And lights on the trees without Christ slowly grow dim and then dark.
There’s more to Advent than false hope
in passing feelings and trinkets and customs.
And that “more” is Jesus Christ.
One of the best examples of all this is a fellow called Santa Claus.
Santa Claus, as I hope you know, is really the Christian Saint Nicholas,
and today, December 6, is usually his feast day,
except that since it falls on Sunday we don’t celebrate it this year.
Now, St. Nicholas was a bishop in 4th century, in what is now Turkey.
Legends about his kindness abound.
Especially his love for children and young people:
how he would carry candies and treats in his pockets
to give to the little ones,
and how he once saved 3 young girls
from being sold by their pagan father into slavery
by secretly throwing 3 bags of gold through their window at night, to be their dowries.
Not to mention his famous love for the poor,
and amazing stories of his great miracles.
Sadly, most people forget all this.
And what is worse, is that the most wonderful—and historically certain—
stories of his life seem to be completely forgotten.
You see, Nicholas was a bishop during the last years
of the Roman persecution of Christians.
And because he was so widely revered by Christians everywhere
the Romans targeted him early on and arrested him and tortured him mercilessly,
almost to the point of death,
to force him to renounce his faith in Jesus Christ.
But he refused, and shed his blood, suffering terribly.
Because, you see, it was Jesus Christ
who was the source of his great love and miraculous powers.
And so in spite of all the worst torture, his hope remained firm in Jesus.
And Jesus didn’t “fix things” for Nicholas.
At least not right away; he continued to suffer.
But one day the persecution stopped
and almost overnight Christianity became not only legal in the empire,
but it became the state religion.
But even that’s not the end of the story.
A few years later, in the year 325, Bishop Nicholas
joined hundreds of other bishops from around the world at the famous council of Nicaea, the first ecumenical council,
so they could, after all those years of persecution,
come together without fear and discuss exactly what Catholics believed
—sort of making sure they were all on the same page.
But at this council was a famous priest named Arius,
who argued that Jesus was not really God.
Now imagine if you’re Nicholas,
who had been tortured for refusing to deny the divinity of Christ,
and now he had to listen to this arrogant heretical priest, standing amidst all the bishops, claiming that very thing,
denying the divinity of Jesus.
As you can imagine, it was too much for Nicholas,
and overcome with emotion he finally raced across the room
and struck Arius right in the face.
Sadly, he was immediately stripped of his bishop’s robes, arrested,
chained hand and foot and thrown into prison by the emperor.
Now, of course, in his cell the holy Nicholas was terribly ashamed
and begged Jesus for forgiveness—and his hope was answered.
That night, as legend tells us, Jesus and Mary appeared to him in the cell
freeing him from his chains and re-dressing him in his bishop’s robes
and handing him his pastoral staff—his crosier.
Of course, when the emperor heard this, he freed him
—and Nicholas became even more revered by the whole Church.
Now, the figure of Santa Claus is clouded in a lot of mystery,
but it’s my theory, that because of his great faith and love
and hope in Jesus Christ,
that when Nicholas finally died and met his Savior in heaven,
Jesus said something like:
“have I got a great job for you,”
and put him in charge of helping little children
experience the holiness and joy of Our Lord’s birthday in a very special way.
And so by God’s will he became the one we know now as Santa Claus,
wearing the famous read suit,
as a badge of honor, symbolizing the blood he once bled for Christ.
That’s my story and I’m sticking with it.
That is Santa Claus—a man who placed all his hope in His Savior Jesus Christ.
No wonder he can race around the world in one evening
giving gifts to all the children—it’s not magic, it’s a miracle!
But that is not how the world thinks of Santa Claus
—they see him only as an old man who brings toys and gifts,
and who performs magic tricks like a merry old Harry Potter.
A caricature of reality—just like their caricature of Advent and Christmas,
and so many other things about God and mankind.
A figure of false hope.
They just don’t understand Santa, or Advent or Christmas.
And they don’t even understand their own desire and hope for a savior.
But we do, and like Santa, we must not place our hopes
in politicians or governments, or false prophets of doom,
or wealth or governments or trinkets or sentimentality.
Rather we place our hope in Jesus Christ,
and put him at the center of Advent and Christmas,
and at the center of the whole year.
Now as we enter more deeply into the mystery of this holy Mass,
let us beg our Savior Jesus Christ
that through his power flowing to us in this Eucharist
we may be renewed in the fullness of the faith and love
this holy season promises.
And even as confusion and disaster may strike all around us
and as so many place their hope in false saviors,
we pray that we may confidently and serenely rejoice that the true savior
has already come to us and is with us now and will come again in glory.
And let us dedicate the rest of Advent to:
“Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths”
so that “all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”