TEXT: First Sunday of Advent, December 3, 2023

December 3, 2023 Father De Celles Homily

First Sunday of Advent

December 3, 2023

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

“Be watchful! Be alert!”

This is a great text to begin Advent with.

We should always be watchful and alert for

the time we’ll come face to face with Christ,

either in His second coming or at the hour of our death.

         We should always be prepared.

In Advent we remember this by making it a season

of preparing to worthily celebrate the first coming of Christ at Christmas.

But there is a huge, overwhelming temptation to not make

this a season of preparing, but a season of celebrating—prematurely.

And, of course, to make it a season not about Jesus at all.

Instead, another approach can take over,

the secular approach to these weeks before Christmas.

If we had to be specific, perhaps we could say it becomes a season of

         merely giving and receiving.

What’s more central to the secular celebration going on than this?

         Think of all the time and effort spent buying and selling gifts;

         and the time you spend thinking, researching, shopping,

buying, wrapping, mailing, and delivering the perfect gift.

Not to mention all the money you spend

and the time you work to earn the money you spend.

On the flip side, so many of us spend a lot of time and energy,

a lot of emotional energy, thinking of and anticipating

all the gifts we will receive.

Even if it’s the simple gift of a Christmas card,

how many of us are overjoyed by the gifts we receive?

And receiving them, or not receiving them,

can change the whole experience of the season for good or bad.

So, the season of Advent is reduced to the Holiday season

and the happiness of giving and receiving things.

Now, is that what this season is all about?

Can Advent, the time of preparation for Christmas,

be reduced to the happiness of giving and receiving?

Well, let me surprise you.

In a way, yes, absolutely.

But not in the way most people think–

you know, the way Hallmark or Coca-Cola or Amazon think about it.

Advent should be a season of giving and receiving,

but only if that is understood

in the context of what we’re preparing to celebrate:

the birth of the Savior, Jesus Christ.

Think about this:

God created us in the beginning in His own image.

And His very act of creating us is fundamentally an act of GIVING

         giving us His love and giving us a share in His existence: life.

So, He gives life and love, which are two sides of the same coin with God.

Then He gives us the whole world:
         “God said unto them…fill the earth, and subdue it;

have dominion over…the earth…

Behold, I have given you…all the earth.”

God is fundamentally a giver, and we are given life in His image,

         so that, created in His image, we are fundamentally givers, too.

But with us, we are givers who first receive, as St. Paul tells us elsewhere,

“What do you have that you did not receive?”

So, we are fundamentally created to be first and foremost

both givers and receivers.

In fact, we can only be truly happy

when we act like who we are: Giving and receiving makes us happy.

Not because we’re selfish, but because it’s who we are.

What exactly do we need to give and receive?

As with God, we are supposed to be givers and receivers of only good things.

And God gives us the very best things first: life and love.

But that’s not enough, as 2000 years ago, the gospels tell us,

“God so loved the world that He gave His only Son,

so that everyone who believes in Him may…have eternal life.”

So, the ultimate gift of His life and love is the gift of His only Son, Jesus Christ.

Which He gave…on Christmas.

So, Christmas and Advent

are all tied up in this notion of divine and human giving and receiving.

But like all good things, giving and receiving can be corrupted.

You can mess up a good grilled steak by burning it to a crisp.

And you can mess up love by allowing sins like lust or envy or selfishness

to completely warp it.

And you can mess up giving and receiving in lots of ways too:

by giving the wrong gift;

or in the wrong way;

or to the wrong person;

or by receiving it without appreciation or thankfulness,

or with greed or envy.

Fundamentally, you keep good gifts good

only by keeping the source of their goodness

center stage and focusing on that.

And the source of all good gifts is God.

As St. James tells us elsewhere in Scripture,

“Whatever is good and perfect is a gift

coming down to us from God our Father.”

So Advent is a season when we should

work at giving and receiving truly good thing–the best things–

and doing that by focusing on Jesus.

Specifically, it’s a time of striving to be open to the graces God gives us,

         of striving to receive the natural and supernatural gifts He gives us

         with due gratitude and to use them in the right way,

especially by following His teachings

in the commandments and the beatitudes and

striving to love God with all our hearts and to truly love our neighbors.

It’s a time of striving to give back to God the praise we should give Him,

the obedience we should give Him, andthe thanksgiving we should give Him;

To receive life and love from Him, and to give our lives and love back to Him.

So then, the whole season of Advent has to include

a lot of thinking and praying and figuring out (and correcting)

the ways we fail to give and receive as we should.

In other words, it’s a season of penance for our sins,

which should include receiving the gifts He gives us to help us with this:

especially the gifts of the sacrament of Confession and the Eucharist.

Confession–the sacrament in which we give God our sorrow for our sins,

and we give him our earnest pledge to strive to change,

to amend our lives, and to give and receive as we should.

And the Eucharist–the sacrament of God giving His Son to us,

and the Son giving Himself to the Father,

and us giving ourselves to the Father through and with the Son.

The sacrament of receiving Jesus

and giving ourselves to Him in Holy Communion.

And the sacrament of giving thanks

to the Father with the Son in the Holy Spirit.


It is a fine and happy custom to give and receive Christmas presents,

but we can’t let them, or any of the cultural or secular customs of this season,

distract us from the purpose and true meaning of Advent or Christmas.

Rather, let each present you buy, give, or receive,

         and the happiness they bring you,

         be reminders to you of the true nature

of the season of Advent and Christmas, and of each of us.

And let us see Christ behind each gift,

letting Him help us and guide us to become more perfectly

who and what we are created and designed to be.

To reach our true potential, having been created in the image of God,

as persons who give and receive,

and who do so in good and righteous ways as Christ instructs us.

To give as the Father and His Son Jesus give to us,

and so, prepare to celebrate the ultimate gift of Jesus to the world on Christmas.

So, “Be watchful! Be alert!” this Advent

for how you should be giving and receiving

in the image of the God who gave Himself to us in Bethlehem.