You might have heard a little bit about this Christmas house tour that is coming up within the next few weeks. Well, apparently, the rectory is on this tour, I found out. Tour what? My messy room? The pile of paper and junk I have sitting on my desk? It turns out that people are actually coming over to help decorate the house, which is good, since none of us priests have enough taste to make it look decent ourselves. Now all this is funny, but ‘tis the season! Everybody has company coming over soon, so what does that mean? It means everyone is hard at work cleaning things up, decorating with wreaths and trees and pine roping and Christmas lights, and preparing special treats for guests and to send to the rectory for Christmas. Everyone is preparing for guests to come over! And the same is true as we enter into this season of Advent.
The word “advent” actually means a “coming toward” of someone, namely Jesus coming toward us! He’s coming to us, and so each of us is charged with the responsibility to prepare ourselves somehow for his coming. St. Bernard of Clairvaux, the great preacher and doctor of the Church at the time of the crusades wrote that the season of Advent is about preparing for the three “comings” of Christ at Christmas, saying that Christ came in history, mystery, and majesty. So what does that mean?
First, coming in history. On December 25 each year, we celebrate the historical event of Christ’s coming into the world by his birth at Christmas, and so the weeks leading up to that are actually a season of preparation for the celebration of that feast in the Church. Christ came and was made “incarnate”, a word that we’re going to begin using in the creed in just a few moments. When we say that Jesus was made incarnate, it means that he became flesh, that he became a human being in order to share our experience in the most intimate way possible, and to redeem us through his death. So how do we prepare for Christ’s coming in history? Maybe try having an advent wreath in your home, lighting a candle each week to lead up to Christmas. Maybe try putting out those Christmas lights, especially before it gets too cold, to be symbols of the light of Christ coming into the world. Try listening to some Christmas music. Not the silly “Jolly Old St. Nicholas” songs or the one about that poor kid buying shoes that makes you cry every time you hear it. I mean the golden oldies, like the Advent theme song, O Come, O Come Emmanuel. Try listening to these songs and reflecting on their meaning as we celebrate Christ’s birth.
Second, let’s talk about Christ’s coming in majesty, a theme that we heard about last week on Christ the King Sunday. We believe, and we profess in the creed, that Jesus will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead. When the time comes, Christ will transform this world and bring about the New Jerusalem, the heavenly city. And we hope to be found worthy to share eternal life with him forever in that new kingdom. So how do we prepare for that one? Well, remember that our eternity is ultimately based on how we spend these days here and now. So try to do good for those in need this Advent. Try checking out the giving tree to support a family who otherwise might not celebrate the holidays. Or maybe it would be something simpler, like baking cookies for a neighbor or parishioner who has been struggling lately. All these things prepare for the coming of Christ in majesty.
So what about the coming of Christ in mystery? Well, sometimes I think that it’s easy for us to begin feeling as though those other two comings of Jesus that we celebrate are disconnected from us, that it’s hard to focus on them in the here and now. We know Christmas is coming, and what it’s supposed to mean, but we just as easily slip into the culture of consumerism. And there are so many things to worry about – gifts, visitors, decorations, cooking, which of the 15 Christmas masses to go to at All Saints. But this advent, this coming of Christ in mystery is the advent that we experience very day, and most especially when we receive the Lord in word and sacrament during the Holy Eucharist. This is the coming of Christ that is so incredible. God became man, so that man could become like God. And not in a generic, cookie-cutter sort of way, but in an intimate, loving, and nurturing way.
So how do we prepare for that? Well, first off…go to confession! We all know that when we have guests over, we should probably clean the house, wash the floors, vacuum the carpet, put the junk away, etc. But in the same way, we should do that within our own hearts, where the Lord has come to dwell. Our parish will be offering an opportunity for this on Thursday evening, but you can come any Saturday evening, or, just because we love you, any of the priests would love to be able to schedule an appointment with you. You might also consider some penitential practice. Usually people associate these with Lent, but the Church encourages us to do this often, and Advent is a great opportunity for it. It’s a time to refocus on Jesus, so you might consider giving something up or doing something extra, so that you’re able to focus on Jesus and stir that longing for him within your soul. Lastly, you can try to have some joy! Just as you would decorate a house with trees or lights, decorate your soul with the beauty of the joy and gratitude for all that the Lord has given you. Don’t be content with Christmas cheer, that sort of chipper attitude that just annoys everyone around you anyway. This is a season of joy, a deep-seated happiness based around gratitude. So take some time to feel joy this Advent.
All these “comings” of Christ are very important to prepare for during advent. The more grateful we become for how God saved us in Jesus through his birth in history, the more deeply we are able to enter into that mystery of how that same Jesus is with us in the here and now. And the closer we come in our relationships with Christ in our daily lives, the more we begin to long to be with him when he comes again in glory. So as we enter into this season of advent, mindful of our need to prepare, let us silently stir within our hearts that desire to meet him, and say together those ancient words, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel.”