If Advent reminds us about God visiting us, His creation, then we need to prepare ourselves for His coming. We need to prepare the Church, the house, but most importantly, the heart. That is why penance services happen in Advent.
We have three teachers that are willing to help us in this preparation. The first is the voice of Isaiah, which we hear throughout this season. It is the open heart of one longing for a Savior -longing for the fulfillment of the promise of the redeemer, the one who can restore us to freedom and put an end to slavery.
Our second teacher is Mary. Mary is expecting a child. I think we can all agree that there is a very special beauty in a pregnant woman - a beauty that goes beyond the physical. This is Mary in our midst, teaching us with her humility as one who is in expectation – waiting for God’s gift. It is the expectation of Advent.
And our third teacher is John the Baptist. He is the one who will tell us what is really necessaryto prepare ourselves for Jesus – to prepare our hearts to belong to Him alone. In our culture today, to say that Christ is at the heart of Christmas is not obvious any more. Does the world see that He is the reason for all of this preparation? For the decoration of our homes and Church, for the Christmas tree and the presents? What sense does a party make without the guest of honor?
It’s very easy for the season of Advent to become a season of the martyrdom of mothers and fathers busily decorating the home, hanging Christmas lights, cooking and cleaning, buying and mailing cards for people we greet only once a year - all with smiling faces….
We cannot let Christmas become a fabricated “spirit of Christmas” – an excuse to buy more and work to present something “perfect”. Who knows…maybe it makes sense to fight this idea. I read in a newspaper once about families pushing for the idea of no decorations, no cards, no colorful lights or fancy food – in an attempt to reclaim Christmas for Christ.
But the spirit of Christmas is not fabricated – it is not Hollywood and store displays. It is real. The Christ Child is coming. The Savior is near. He is coming and He will come again!
We must remember that the center of Christian life is Christ, and the center of Christmas is Jesus. Without Him, all of the swirl of color and lights and sweet smells is sterile – it’s empty. It’s is a movie set – like we all agreed to be happy for the month of December and afterward, to return to the reality of our normal life. Aren’t we tired of this? It robs us of the gift God wants to give us – the gift of Himself.
John The Baptist reminds us that Jesus is coming. He doesn’t come with lights and parties. He comes as a simple baby in a poor manger. He comes to conquer our hearts and grab our attention. And He comes to change us – to break and defeat the things that separate us from His love – especially the things we can’t see, like our pride, our selfishness, our resentment… These are things that distract us from what is really important in life – the things that make it real. They are things that blind us to the real spirit of Christmas and of Christianity. Jesus is coming and He wants to change us – to fill the world with His light.
This is what was essential for John the Baptist –Jesus. John’s preaching was for one purpose – to prepare others for the coming of Jesus. This Sunday, the Church, our Mother, is inviting us todiscover the things that are not essential for Christmas – especially the things of the soul (our pride, our resentment…) The Church invites us to focus on Christ and on what is essential to prepare ourselves for Him – through humility, service, the donation of ourselves for the sake of others (maybe a special Christmas gift to St. Mark before the end of the year), and through forgiveness - to forgive and to want to be forgiven.
By the grace of God, this was a week of many confessions here at St Mark’s. I thank God for the grace of having these many confessions fall in the week of my birthday. May our Mother continue helping us to prepare this family of St. Mark, every single one of our hearts, for the coming of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ as we pray: Remember of most gracious Virgin Mary....