In a post last week for the Alliance for Catholic Education, my colleauge Betsy Okello focused our Advent journeys by challenging us to wait in joyful hope, to enact the words prayed by the priest during the celebration of the Eucharist after the Our Father.
In our materialistic world, waiting in joyful hope during the season of Advent for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ, is difficult. Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday, Santa, Frosty, Rudolph, elves, reindeer, and presents fill stores, yards, screens, and hearts. Our to-do lists mount: Christmas concerts, parties, pictures, cards, gifts, cleaning, cookies, outfits, travel.
In the midst of the noise, the traffic, the lines, the distractions...Do you hear what I hear?
Listen. It takes focus, discipline, and effort.
It is faint, far away.
A voice, crying out in the desert, shouts, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!"
Hear it again, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!"
Attune your senses to an echo from an ancient time, "Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths!"
See the figure in the distance. As the details become clear, notice clothing made from camel hair, a leather belt, a disheveled beard, a meal of locusts and wild honey.
As he draws closer, observe the crowd behind him, following him, listening to him, imitating him, sensing that he is the return of Elijah, the one to signal the Messiah is coming soon.
Behold how easily he dismisses a group possessing apparent power, authority, and connections as he explodes, “You brood of vipers! Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance." Watch this privileged group turn away, grumbling amongst themselves about how he just blew his only shot at their endorsement.
Absorb his message for all of us, "It's not about me or you. It never has been."
Heed his words as he points us toward Christ, "I am not worthy to carry His sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. He will fill your life with purpose and meaning beyond measure and make you into who you were created to be. All of this is about and because of Him. For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are His, now and forever."
This Advent, may we, like St. John the Baptist have the courage to be different from the world.
This Advent, may we listen to and internalize his words:
Repent. In all of the busyness of this season, make room for Jesus. In prayer, give
Him the first part of your day, your week, your Advent, your Christmas. Return to Him in the Sacraments of the Eucharist and Reconciliation. Allow His grace to overwhelm you with new life.
Make straight the paths. What is most essential right now? What could you courageously leave out of Advent, or intentionally bring into it so that it’s more about Him and less about anything else? What could you do differently to stand out from the world so that you can point to the Cause of our joyful hope when people question just what you’re doing? Turn your cards into messages of evangelization. Take time while shopping to pray for those for whom you’re buying gifts. Recognize traces of the Light of the world in the decorations fighting against December’s darkness. Notice echos of the choirs of angels in the silver bells, jingle bells, sleigh bells and other sounds of the season.
Produce good fruit. The wonder of the season is wrapped up in the wonder of God’s love, wrapped up in a blanket, wrapped up in our humanity, wrapped up in God’s plan to save the world. Follow this example and give Him your finest gift: you. Honor God by giving yourself to others through acts of service, charity, and mercy.
It’s not about you or me or gifts or cookies or concerts. It never has been.
The kingdom, the power, and the glory are His now and forever.