How was your Black Friday? How was your Small Business Saturday? How was your Cyber Monday? I ask these questions because it seemed to me this year that these three days after Thanksgiving eclipsed the meaning and significance of Thanksgiving. For years, Thanksgiving was the center of the holiday week - a time to thank God for the blessing of our country and for all of our blessings. But this year these three post-Thanksgiving days seem to have gotten more attention than the original feast. These three days had to do with business, money, shopping, getting deals. Black Friday actually began the evening of Thanksgiving. As an older man, I must honestly say that having cooked Thanksgiving dinner, eating, and then cleaning up after a big, messy meal, the last thing that I would want to do on Thanksgiving night is to go shopping. But there they were - all over the country, thousands of people almost stampeding into malls and stores, some of them having waited in tents for the doors to open.
If Thanksgiving was eclipsed by this materialism and commodity form living, that certainly is happening to the feast of Christmas. Advertising and marketing cry out to us to get to stores to buy, buy, buy - promising us that we will save money if we shop at a certain place, in a certain way, on a certain day. Christmas has become a celebration of things that we apparently share with each other in the name of love. I am not a Scrooge - I enjoy expressing my love through gift giving. As a kid, I looked forward to the coming of Santa Claus. But the coming of Santa Claus had a parallel in bygone years, and that was the coming of Jesus. In recent years the coming of Santa seems to have become more important than the coming of Jesus. Now some leaders and people do not want to speak of Christmas or even Christmas trees. Rather December 25 has become the holiday, and trees are now holiday trees. One gentleman on the news last night said that he celebrates the winter solstice on December 25, and that is his reason for sharing gifts with his loved ones.
The season of Advent, which we begin this weekend, reminds us of the true meaning of Christmas. Christmas is a celebration of the coming of Jesus. Jesus has come and comes to us in different ways. Christmas is certainly a celebration of his historical birth into and ministry to the human family. We also celebrate and believe that Jesus is always coming to us in different ways every day - he is truly and really present to us in the here and now in multiple ways. Our tradition also holds that there will be a second coming of Jesus, at which time Jesus will bring all of creation into the fulfillment of God's will and plan. Personally, Jesus will come to each of us at the end of our physical lives, hopefully inviting us into Resurrection and eternal life. The Advent - Christmas season encourages us to attend to the many different ways that Jesus comes to us. The word we use to explain these multiple comings is Incarnation. Incarnation comes from two Latin words in carne, meaning in flesh, or into flesh. The mystery of the Incarnation involves our belief that Jesus, not only historically in the past, but also now, existentially, comes into our world, our lives, our stories.
Advent comes from two other Latin words -ad venire, meaning to come to. Jesus came, comes, and will come into our lives. It is a time to attend to this real activity and presence of Jesus, moving toward a major celebration of Incarnation on Christmas and during the Christmas season. This week's readings contain words and themes that capture the meaning of Advent. Jeremiah reminds us of God's promise to us to help us be safe and secure. The prophet calls us to hope. St. Paul in 1 Thessalonians encourages us to use these days to allow our hearts to be strengthened. Jesus, in the Gospel of Luke, calls us to a renewed vigilance about the divine presence in our lives. Jeremiah reminds us that these days ought to be characterized by works of mercy and justice. In the evolution of our tradition and liturgical life, Lent developed as a 40 day retreat of prayer and penance, in preparation for Easter. Advent developed later in history. Advent is not about the penance that is part of the Lenten season. Although any of us can practice whatever kind of penance we want to throughout the year, Advent is rather about attending, paying attention to, the always coming Jesus. It is about working with God in sharpening our faith perspective on life.
Paying attention to the multiple kinds of coming of the Lord reminds us of something we touched on last week, on the feast of Christ the King. Another reality that is always coming into our world is the Kingdom or Reign of God. The Reign of God is a God centered vision of and way of life. As Jesus has taught us, it is a present reality, but we all still pray for and work at a more complete coming of God's Reign into our world. God needs and invites our cooperation in the gradual emergence of the Reign of God . We help with this emergence through our lives of faith, spirituality, and prayer and through our deeds of ministry, mercy, and justice.
I have been dealing with my old problem of anxiety lately. I have developed a couple of health problems that are causing me concern. They are not fatal (I hope), but real and problematic. It does not help that I am God's worst hypochondriac. I usually avoid doctors, but have recently caved in and have seen several because of my concern. I do not mean this as a taking on of penance, but I want to become more deliberate and intentional in my prayer life this Advent. I want to be more deliberate in praying and studying God's Word in the sacred Scriptures these next few weeks. In both of these efforts, I seek to attend to the coming of Jesus in my life these days, and to pass through anxiety and worry, to greater surrender into and trust in God. God is always coming into our lives even on Black Friday, Small-Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday. Let us not miss God's coming this Advent and Christmas.