Second Sunday of Advent: Preparing for Christmas
(Please note that the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception is transferred to Monday, December 9th, this year and is not a holy day of obligation.)
Last year I decided to put up my Christmas decorations in my house........on December 26th. That didn't work. So, this year I decided to get to them early. I bought a tree on Monday, let it sit in water until Thursday and then performed the most exquisite example on how not to decorate a tree on Thursday. I'm really bad at that, but then again, its better than nothing. So, I'm ahead of last year. A bit.
We all spend a lot of time getting ready for Christmas. There's the gifts, the cards, the decorating, the cooking, the visits to Santa, the children's pageants. Why do we do all this? "Well, everyone else is doing it," you might say. "We can't be the only house on the block without Christmas lights." There's some truth to that. After all we want to join those who are celebrating the birth of Jesus. The gifts are meant to be an expression of our joy in God's gift of His Son, for He so loved the world. The cards might seem insignificant, but they are really important. Perhaps there might be someone we drop a card to whose life will brighten when they hear from us. And as far as the children are concerned, we want them to be full of joy on Christmas and we need to spend time reminding them why this is a day of joy. The music specific to the Christmas season is important too. The carols get us in the mood to celebrate as they remind us what we are celebrating.
So, there is an importance to all our Christmas preparations. It would be sad, though, if we didn't do the most important preparation: preparing our souls to celebrate the coming of Jesus as one of us.
Maybe we take this granted. After all, we are all concerned Catholics. We wouldn't be here in Church if we weren't. But we do have to be careful that having so much to do in a short time we just presume that spiritually we'll be ready for Christmas.
Think about the Pharisees and the Sadducees who came to John for Baptism in today's Gospel. John is pretty rough on them. He calls them a brood of vipers. They are going through the motions of accepting his baptism of repentance, but they are not sincere. Perhaps they, as always, were concerned with putting on a show of piety. He tells them to prove that they want a change in the world by producing good fruit. He warns them that it is not enough to say that they are children of Abraham. They have to live as God's people.
The real preparation for Christmas that you and I need to make is our determination to turn from evil and sin and hatred and turn to celebrate the One who brings peace and love to the world. We have penance services and increased times for reconciliation to help us turn from sin. We have special charitable opportunities like the Advent Giving Tree and Project Thanks to help us foster love.
We do have to be careful that with all the Advent preparation we make, we don't make the mistake of Befana in a folktale of the Epiphany. Let me read it to you in poetic form:
Befana the housewife, scrubbing her pane,
Saw three old sages ride down the lane,
Saw three gray travelers pass her door,
Gaspar, Balthazar and Melchior.
"Where journey you, sirs?" she asked of them.
Balthazar answered, "To Bethlehem,
"For we have news of a marvelous thing,
Born in a stable is Christ the King."
"Give him my welcome,"
Then Gaspar smiled,
"Come with us mistress to greet the child."
"O happily, happily would I fare,
"Were my dusting through,
and I polished the stair."
Old Melchior leaned on his saddle horn,
"Then send but a gift to the small Newborn."
"O gladly, gladly, I'd send him one,
"Were the hearthstone swept
and my weaving done.
"As soon as I've baked my bread,
"I'll fetch him a pillow for his head,
"And a coverlet too," Befana said.
"When the rooms are aired and the linen dry,
‘I'll look to the babe,"
But the three rode by.
She worked for a day, and a night and a day,
Then, gifts in her hand, she took up her way.
But she never found where the Christ Child lay.
And still she wanders at Christmastide.
Houseless, whose house was all her pride.
Whose heart was tardy, whose gifts were late,
Wanders and knocks at every gate.
Crying, "Good people, let the bells begin.
"Put off your toiling and let love in."
"Put off your toiling and let love in." This is what Christmas is about: letting love in. We are going through a difficult time in the world and in our country. There are, sadly people who think that in certain circumstances bigotry and hatred are acceptable. Right wing groups like the KKK are convinced that they are being good Americans if they hate others. Those in Middle East terrorist groups express their hatred in many horrible ways. Those affected by terrorists think they have a right not only to hate those who attack them but also anyone of the terrorists' faith. More than that, some people think they have a right to hate all people from the Mideast. I was talking to a lady recently who was a Catholic rom Iraq. She told me how difficult it was for her to love when she is continually abused with hateful remarks from people so bigoted that they don't even notice the persecution Iraqi Catholics suffer. It is amazing how hatred and ignorance work hand in hand. Some people who hate act as though they are good Christians. They are not. True followers of Jesus Christ respond to His call to make the Lord's love real in the world.
The world need true Christians now more than ever. The world needs us to celebrate Love Become One of Us, with our determination to end the antagonism and hatred by removing hatred from our own lives.
The preparations we are making for Christmas are important, but nothing is more important than our efforts to Let Love In.
Let love into our lives. Let Love into our world. This is the best way, the true way, the only way that we can celebrate the Child.