In less than two weeks we will celebrate Christmas, a time of hope and joy. Yet, for now we remain in our season of Advent. We use this time of Advent as a time to prepare for the coming of the Lord.
As we began Advent, our readings pointed to the Second Coming. This can lead us to think about our sins. Our liturgical color for Advent is violent, a color that is associated with penance.
Yet today I am wearing rose for it is Gaudete Sunday. We also see the color rose in the third candle of our Advent wreath. Gaudete means “rejoice.” Even in this season of penance, we find hope in Jesus’ offering us salvation through the forgiveness of our sins. We face temptation. We battle against evil but “rose”is a color of warmth, reminding us of God’s love.
Most people look forward with joy to Christmas. Yet, there are those who are sad, perhaps celebrating Christmas for the first time after the loss of a love done. Or, while some enjoy the preparations, some might be anxious about everything that needs to be done. For them, I refer to Paul’s words,“have no anxiety at all.”
Why? Because “the Lord is near,” “for among you is the great and Holy One of Israel,” “the LORD, is in your midst.”
You see, we talk about the First Coming of Jesus at Christmas and the Second Coming of Jesus at the end of the ages but sometimes we forget to think about what some early church writers called the “Third Coming.” Jesus wants to come into our hearts every day.
We may struggle to know that the Lord is near and in our midst. Sometimes it is the very preparations we make for Christmas that make us too busy and anxious to be aware of the Lord. Here are some suggestions.
You might try praying before you shop, wrap presents, or bake to take a couple of minutes to pray that as you carry out the task, God help you to be aware of the meaning behind what you are doing, the true spirit of Christmas.
Similarly, try coming to church five minutes early and spending it in quiet prayer in the pew. Begin by handing all your “anxieties” over to Jesus so that you can hear him during Mass. Occasionally someone tells me they don’t get much out of Mass. Maybe that’s because we are too distracted by earthly things. Try five minutes of quiet.
We find some other possibilities in John the Baptist’s response to the questions in today’s gospel. The crowds ask him, “What should we do?” John’s response is a call to share. Instead of keeping what you have been given, share your blessings. Is this not the point of gift-giving? Is not the love behind the gift as important, even more important than the gift itself? Here, we thank everyone who helped with the gifts and food for our Advent Giving Tree to help share the joy of Christmas with less fortunate families.
To the tax collectors, John said “Stop collecting more than what is prescribed.” If you do work for someone else, you can charge a fair price but don’t take advantage of them. Likewise, John told the soldiers, “be satisfied with your wages.” Everyone deserves a just wage, sufficient to provide for their family. Are there people who take an exorbitant wage based on pride and greed rather than fair compensation? Wages that are so high drive up the prices for those who can’t afford it.
What I am trying to get at here isn’t just a matter of money. My point is that we open ourselves to conversion that leads us to let go of earthly things, to love our neighbor, and to be honest in our dealings with others.
I think of the people who come to our parish looking for food. They are looking for physical food for their next meal. God has given us our earthly bodies that need to be feed. The need for food is real. When our bodies are feed, we come to church looking for something more, food for our souls.
We need hope.
Christmas brings that hope. We find hope in the birth of Jesus. This hope comes not simply from his birth alone but from the fact the we know that his birth leads to his public ministry of preaching, teaching, miracles, and, ultimately, his Crucifixion and Resurrection, making salvation possible.
This is the hope that we really need. This is the hope that will draw so many more people to church at Christmas. They come hearing of the hope of Jesus’ birth.
So what if they are in your pew. Won’t it be wonderful to see them come regularly? Would that not build our hope for the future? Then we need to give them an experience of love at Christmas. That means we need to be welcoming. Use these coming days before Christmas to invite people to come. When they come, help them to feel loved. That will help them believe in the hope of a caring God and that our parish is a place of God’s love.
We will all be better for it.