The season of Advent is here once more. Contrary to what many think, the season of Christmas does not start until the season of Advent is over. Unfortunately, we live in a time when the world dictates important religious seasons and how they are to be celebrated, not because they care about your spiritual well-being but they are only interested in how much profit they make. As Catholics and Christians, we need to reclaim all out seasons and feasts and celebrate them in the way that will help us grow spiritually.
Advent and Christmas has undergone quite a transformation primarily because of the nature of society and more importantly because of secularization. The market forces have gained a great deal of ground in defining these seasons for us. In fact, for millions upon millions of people the world over, their Advent and Christmas is what the secular society says it is. For them, these seasons are completely controlled by the secular world. The way we look at life, the way we look at religion, is either hyped up for us, or belittled for us by these market forces. So if the market forces – the secular world – wants to hype up the seasons for us, then the market forces go into play to make the seasons hyped up. The day that the market forces – the secular world – say that it is all over, then it is all over. For the secular world; it is all about money – the almighty dollar – so their main thrust is to see how much money, how much of your hard earned cash, they can get out of your pockets and into theirs. That is why after December 25, it becomes more and more difficult to remember what happened on Christmas Day, because the secular world moved on very quickly unto the next money making scheme. So the spirit of Christmas is very short lived in our lives – and in many instances, does not live at all – because we are so influenced by the market forces that surround us.
In reality, more of us are guided by these market forces than we care to admit. Catholics and Christians should be the ones who define what Advent and what Christmas is, and how the seasons are to be lived; not the secular world. Every year it is a tragedy that so many of us get so caught up in the secularization of these two very important seasons, that the very meaning of the seasons are lost – lost to Macy’s and Walmart and carnival and even to so called Christmas events that bear no relations to the real meaning of Advent or Christmas. I know many Catholics who do not make it to Mass on Christmas Eve nor Christmas Day because they’re too tired from the shopping and cleaning and the spending of their hard earned cash, that there is nothing left in them – left that is, to actively participate in the Mass. Very recently, I overheard someone at my place of work exclaim that he hates Christmas because of the money he has to spend, and that he very much prefers carnival. As I walked by, I thought to myself that this poor guy has absolutely no idea, no clue whatsoever how much he needs Jesus Christ in his life; and you know what; he’s not the only one. There are many, many more like him.
In moving forward from this dilemma , we must first acknowledge that we have lost the sense of the true meaning of Advent and Christmas seasons in our spiritual lives. Why else would be replace “Christmas” with “xmas”, and “Merry Christmas” with “Happy Holidays” or “Merry XMas” and all the other aliases the secular world has conjured up for us. In recognizing where we are in reality then be can come to terms with what we must do to get to that place that we should be. We must therefore rekindle the real reason for the season.
When we understand what Advent is about, then we can come to realize that is a season that we cannot do without. We cannot do without Advent because all of us, every single one of us are not where we should be. We are all in a mess, existing in places in life where we should not be; where we were not meant to be, and Advent brings us to that realization, and causes us to do a self examination and assessment in an effort to move to a higher place – the place we were meant to be. When you look at life as either hitting the target or missing the target, and we are honest with ourselves, then we will realise that we all have missed the target at some point in time. Many of us are in the wrong place right now. Many of us are heading in the wrong direction in life and we need to be redirected. Many of us have lost the sense of purpose in our lives and we need to reassess our lives to regain that purpose.
Very often, life plays tricks on us; many of us are in places we should not be because certain situations have taken place in our lives; situations that we may have had no control over; but nonetheless, situations that we must face, and must deal with. Life can also play tricks on us in making us think that the place of darkness, the place of death that we are in is too difficult or impossible to get out of; so we may as well stay there; we may as well resign ourselves to that place. WRONG! That is so very wrong! That is part of the dirty trick life can play on us at times, and why Advent is so very important to us in recognizing this, and in moving forward.
God has a special purpose for us all. When He created us, every single one of us, He created us with a particular purpose, a particular plan, a plan that will prosper us and not harm us, plans that will give us hope and a bright future [Jeremiah 29:11]. If the place we are in now, does not measure up with this “plan”; if where we are does not ‘prosper’ us, does not bring us peace, does not bring us that ‘unspeakable joy’ in spite of the circumstances, then we are in the wrong place and we need to turn around; we are heading in the wrong direction and we need to make a u-turn. We must never ever in life, settle for less than what we were created for. Jesus said I have come that you may have life and have it to the fullest [John 10:10]. Many of us are not experiencing that fullness of life; mind you, that fullness of life has precious little to do with material gains, but rather a state of wellness of your soul, of your heart and of your mind. Advent reminds us that we shouldn’t stay in that place of darkness that we may be at right now, and that God is calling us to a better place, a higher place, a better purpose, a purpose filled life. During the season of Advent God says to us,
“My child I know that you are in a place where you should not be. I know life is hard, I know things are rough, I know your pain, I have counted all of your tears. I do not want you to remain in that place. I have a much better place for you. I have a much better plan for you. You are not achieving the purpose filled life for which I create you. You must leave this place of desolation and go to the one that I have created you for. But do not be afraid my child of how you will get there, for you will not make this journey alone; I will not leave you alone. I will journey with you. I will come down and walk beside you. I will raise him up on my shoulder; I will carry you. For no matter what walk of life you may find yourself in, no matter how day the night may be, no matter what you may have done, you are my child and I love you with an everlasting love. I will come to you. I will meet you right where you are, and take you to that higher place where you were created to be.”
Advent tells us that Emmanuel, God with us, left his divinity to enter into our humanity to raise us up to a higher place, a higher purpose, to transform our lives, to redirect our lives, to turn us around, plant our feet and higher, solid ground. When we understand the real value of Advent in our lives, that would lead us to a much greater understanding and appreciation for Christmas; and when we have a greater understanding and appreciation of these two seasons, we will find ourselves in the place where we can no longer tolerate cards or greetings that merely says “happy holidays” or “merry xmas” because these two seasons are about so much more than just holidays; and to pass them off as just holidays is an insult, one that the serious minded Christian must no longer tolerate. Advent is a definitive moment in history. Christmas is about a definitive moment in time, in man’s history, when God showed that he cared for every one of us by entering into our humanity so that he could walk with us, so that he could live with us, so that he could lead us, carry us, lift us to that better place. It is therefore not just about holidays, but rather about the love of our God who wanted to become one with us so badly, that he gave up his divinity to enter into our wretched humanity. Our greetings therefore as they relate to these two seasons should stay clear of a happy holiday syndrome. Our greetings should clearly speak of, and include the real reason for the seasons of Advent and of Christmas – Jesus Christ.
The next important thing about Advent arises out of what we have already shared above; and that is that because God has come down to meet me where I am, because he cared enough to leave his divinity to enter into my humanity, because he does not wait for me to arrive at that place that he wants me to be; that place that I should be, but rather he meets me where I am; in the mess of my life to walk me out of it, because he does all of this, there is hope. I have hope! You see when we are really in dire straits, and in spite of who we are, where we have been, or what we have done, someone still loves us; someone still genuinely cares for us, that gives us tremendous hope. And it does not stop there. That hope fuels in us dreams to be better, dreams to move to a better place.
Regardless of how bad you may think you are, there is hope; regardless of how far you may have gone, there is hope; regardless of how lost you may think you are or you may feel, there is hope; there is great hope that today, or where I am at this point in time in my life, is not the final statement of my life; it is not the final word, the final chapter of my destiny. It is not. Advent gives us hope that tomorrow will be better because of Emmanuel – God With Us, and that there is something that God is going to do with me that will make me better. Advent reminds us that we are all work in progress; the key of course to that work progressing is to be open with our loving and merciful God as he walks with us, as he redirects all paths, as he turns us around, as he lifts us up, as he rebuilds and replants us.
Because of the new Hope that Advent gives us; because of the better dreams that Advent gives us for our lives, we can now act; we can now act decisively, and with a greater sense of purpose and direction. If we are able to do this, if we are able to live out the true meaning of Advent, then the true meaning of Christmas will come home to us, and will not be based on how many gifts we have to get or will receive. Christmas will engender in us a tremendous spirit of thankfulness and gratitude to God for who he is; Emmanuel, God with us. As we enter into the Advent, then the Christmas season, this gratitude and this thankfulness to God will transform our lives to such a place that we can see and appreciate every blessing that God our loving father has bestowed on us – even if we may be classed amount the poorest of poor, we will be able to count all of our blessings. The beauty and the power of it all is that in recognizing the blessings God has showered on us, and in giving thanks to Him for them, He will literally open up the vault of Heaven and pour even more blessing upon our lives; blessings that are far more precious that silver or gold or diamonds or any of those things that we crave after in our humanness; blessings that the world can never ever give, and blessings that this crazy world can never ever take away from us.
May the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life, enlighten your hearts and your minds to the truth about the love and mercy of our God, and fill you with His peace.