by Father Mark Goldasich
That was the last time that I celebrated Advent well. It helped immensely that I was a student in graduate school at the time, living in a seminary setting and residing outside the United States — in Rome, to be exact.
It was easy in those days to enjoy a quiet preparation for Christmas.
A proper Advent is practically impossible to keep in our society today. Radio stations are already “all Christmas songs, all the time.” Stores have had Christmas items displayed since before Halloween. Various mayors have already had their Christmas tree lighting ceremonies. Houses are now aglow with lights. Heck, even the chancery is going to decorate for Christmas on Dec. 2.
So, keeping Christmas at bay during Advent isn’t going to happen for most of us. About the only place I can successfully celebrate Advent is while in church — reining in when we start singing the Christmas carols and when we decorate for the holiday.
My approach to Advent changed a number of years ago when I read Father Ed Hays’ “Meeting Christ at Broadway & Bethlehem.” In it, he suggested that we not fight all the glitter (think the lights of Broadway) already around us, but instead seek to find where the manger can be found (Bethlehem) amid all that showiness.
After all, Christ is already here in our world, though not yet fully.
Advent helps us remember who is the cause for our celebration. I’ll give you a hint: It ain’t Santa.
Sadly, we’re very much like the people in this story from CBS4.com:
The party on June 3, 2006, was for Michael Emmanuel’s sixth birthday, and friends and family were celebrating at the local Chuck E. Cheese in Boca Raton, Florida.
The party went just fine. The problem came when it was over. All the children and adults climbed into three different vehicles and headed home. Everyone, that is, except Michael.
Apparently, the birthday boy returned to the play area and, when the partygoers departed, he was left behind. Employees found the kid wandering around the restaurant at 10 p.m. and called the police.
Michael’s mother assumed that her son was staying with his grandmother and didn’t realize the boy was missing until the next morning. Unfortunately, for Michael (and his mother), it is possible to have a joyful celebration and still forget the guest of honor. (Found in “1001 Illustrations That Connect,” edited by Craig Brian Larson and Phyllis Ten Elshof.)
Is it just a coincidence that this boy’s last name is Emmanuel? Like in the story, we live in a society that loves the celebration, but has forgotten the guest of honor.
During Advent, we should challenge ourselves to find a deeper spiritual meaning in the secular traditions.
For example, I enjoy sending out Christmas cards. I’m picky, though, about the kind of cards I purchase. I get religious ones from the Benedictines at Printery House in Conception, Missouri. I also say a prayer for each recipient as I write the card.
When out buying presents, I try to fit gift to specific person. It reminds me of the unique person that God created each of us to be and to celebrate that. And shopping reminds me to be thankful to God that I have money to buy gifts and the good health to go out shopping in the first place.
As I see Christmas trees decorated, I’m reminded that the coming of Christ added an incredible beauty to a world that already carried the fingerprint of God. Christmas lights remind me of the Light, who came into the world to drive out the darkness of sin and death.
Sometimes, in an effort to be Advent purists, we run the risk of being petty and gloomy people. Let’s face it: It’s often a tough world out there and, honestly, “we need a little Christmas,” as the song goes:
“For I’ve grown a little leaner, grown a little colder, grown a little sadder, grown a little older. And I need a little angel, sitting on my shoulder, need a little Christmas now.”
Don’t we all?