I know I'm three Sundays late with this Advent reflection. As mentioned before, time has taken on an altogether new meaning for me. So, I apologize if it comes a bit late (technically 1/2 way) in this glorious season of Advent. But, our God of second chances is also a God of last second comebacks. So I hope that God would agree: it's better late than never.
In addition, I'm not only late, I'm also going to begin this reflection by looking at an event toward the end of the Christmas season. Much like a lesson plan designed by having the end in mind before beginning, I think it's worth knowing where we're headed before we start on our journey. It's in this spirit that I turn to the story of the Three Wise Men and what they can teach us about Advent. (http://www.usccb.org/nab/bible/matthew/matthew2.htm)
The Wise Men offer us a wonderful example of how we should behave during this season of Advent. First, we imagine that they had to prepare for their journey to Bethlehem before starting. Unlike jumping in the car and traveling from St. Petersburg to Tampa or even from Tampa to Jacksonville, we can imagine their trip taking extended time and requiring much more preparation than grabbing their keys. Second, the Wise Men had to make a choice. They had to choose between following what Herod wanted and what their hearts (and God) wanted. Third, they returned to their homes by a different road-- their encounter with Christ changed them in such a way that they could no longer go back to their old ways. They were different because of their Christmas day. Fourth and finally, history knows them as “wise” because of their gifts honoring Christ’s Kingship, instead of merely recognizing his birth.
Can the same adjective, wise, be applied to us during this Advent season? Personally, I want to be considered wise instead of the opposite. When Christmas is over and we’re returning to our everyday lives, I want to be a different person. I want to be someone who saw Christ not just as a way to get presents but as my Savior and King. I want to be a Wise Man, too.
We need to take the example of the Wise Men if we are to make the most out of our Advent preparation:
First, we must prepare for Christmas. This preparation, however, should take a different shape and tone than what society tells us it should entail (http://www.adventconspiracy.org/). We should worship fully. We should spend more time in prayer than usual and the time we do spend should be spent in participating fully, consciously and actively. While carolling we may belt out "Rudolph, the Red-Nose Reindeer" at the top of our lungs, but in Mass we wouldn't dream of even opening our mouths. This Advent, sing. Instead of just praying at the end of the day before going to sleep, maybe we should take Christ's example and rise a bit earlier, go off by ourselves, and begin our day in prayer. Cracking open Sacred Scripture, receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation, lighting an Advent wreath at home-- whatever you do, do something different and/or extra and do it with your full heart.
Second, we need to recognize that like the Wise Men, we are also presented with a choice about the birth of Jesus. The world tells us that in order to be happy this Christmas we need to spend more money and buy the newest, most expensive gadget. Things are what we want. So, run around to as many stores as possible and buy as much (quantity over quality) as possible so that your precious loved ones will be happy. Our God presents us with a much different choice, one that focuses more on people, relationships and quality than it does on material things. Can you even remember all that you got for Christmas last year? How about five years ago? But, can you remember the people with whom you spent Christmas and what you did? The Wise Men chose, well, wisely. Hopefully we will, too.
Third, Christmas Day will come and hopefully we will come to experience and encounter Christ in a true and meaningful way. Will we be changed forever because of our encounter with Christ on Christmas Day (we will even find time for Church)? Or, will the 26th come as it usually does, seeing us trudge back to the stores, upset with the crowds and even more upset with having to return all of the things that we got but didn't want?
If we can make the right choice and truly prepare for Christmas as the Magi did, spending more time in prayer and less at the malls, giving more of ourselves to people we love and less of our money, if we can recognize the true meaning of Christmas and live our lives according, we just might be considered wise.
Heck, we may even go down in history.