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Distracted by Christmas

Mary Jo Tully
Chancellor, Archdiocese of Portland

Dec. 1, 2013
First Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 2:1-5
Romans 13:11-14
Matthew 24:37-44

For weeks the secular world has been advising us that we should “get ready for Christmas.” We have caught the spirit of anticipation and anxiety about whether or not we will be prepared. Today the Church joins in but the message is not the same. We might easily wonder why, when we are preparing for the birth of the Baby, we are directed toward Christ’s final coming. The truth is that many of us have been distracted by a secular view of Christmas.

Advent is a setting for the proclamation of Christ's coming in history, mystery, and majesty. We have forgotten that we are to prepare for Christ’s coming in majesty. We can become so occupied with shopping, Christmas trees, and presents that we will be unprepared for the Lord's coming. "…at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.”

The Advent Scriptures are particularly poetic. They speak to those who hear them on a variety of levels. When children hear the words of Isaiah, they experience a longing for the infant Messiah. The adult knows of another coming of Jesus. We know that there is a greater kingdom to be established above the hills and that there will be a gathering of all the people. We know the judgment which is coming will measure our preparation for the future. We will be judged as a people who know the presence of Christ in our lives.

God expects more of those who know Jesus in their midst than from the people who still awaited his coming. What then ought to be our considerations in the Advent season? The Advent Scripture identifies four roads to the kingdom and calls us to make straight those paths. The kingdom comes by our walking toward peace, justice, liberation and reconciliation.

Even as the season proclaims the wonder of God's love and the goodness of his creation, we are surrounded by the signs that we have rejected his love and abused his creation. We live in the house we have created by our own sinfulness, by our having alienated ourselves from our fellow human beings and the world itself. Reconciliation means taking the initiative. It is "affirmative action" in the house of the human spirit.

Christ's final coming has always been associated with justice and judgment. It is on the basis of justice that we will be called to account for our lives. "I was hungry and you gave me food. I was thirsty and you gave me drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me. I was ill and you comforted me, in prison and you came to visit me" (Matthew 25:35-37). The personalism and thoughtfulness that should characterize our actions are the next words of the king: "I assure you, as often as you did it for one of my least brothers, you did it for me" (Matthew 25:40).

There are varieties of ways in which the adult Christian can activate penance, prayer, justice, liberation and peace in his or her life. Even while we prepare little children to greet the Lord and celebrate his historical birth, we are called to prepare for the coming of the Lord of majesty. Through this preparation, we will announce not only the coming of Jesus in Bethlehem but his resurrection and life in our midst. We announce the watchfulness that ought to be ours and extend our Easter "Alleluia" into a song in honor of the king who comes in glory.

Christianity is built on the mystery of the Eucharist. Its success is judged by our ability to make our faith obvious and transparent to other believers.

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