Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Looking Behind, Within and Ahead With Joyful Hope

Busy time of year, as the Church Year winds down. Tonight, after serving as song-leader for one of our parish religious education Masses, I was part of our parish liturgy planning committee's final preparations for Advent and Christmas.  A discussion we had about our seasonal focus led me to some more profound thoughts about liturgical time.

The conundrum of Advent is that we wait, all the while knowing full well the promise has already been fulfilled -that we have already been set free from sin and death.  Our hope is celebrated in the memory of what was, but also in what is and will be (the three comings of Christ in Advent - in the manger, in our hearts, and at the end of time.)  Certainly this is complex. As Christians, we know "the rest of the story" and that should color Advent as a period of reflection on the meaning of "being ready" for Jesus then, now and in the future.

When we get to the Christmas season, the dynamic takes on a particular urgency: Incarnation means we, as the spiritual descendents of those who encountered the Living God in the flesh are called to be human according the example of Jesus. The celebration is not so much for the coming of the Baby Jesus, but for the descent of God, who has come to walk on earth with us, taking on flesh to experience human life, frailty and ultimately, Paschal Mystery. We celebrate, in Incarnation, the seeds of  Cross and Resurrection. In the already-not-yet of liturgical time, we encounter the Christ who is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow - whom we cannot understand in human terms... and we are asked to emulate him - to be disciples willing to do what Jesus did - to die to self in order to conform to God's will - and to live the call to help build the Reign of God by compassionately caring for our less-fortunate brothers and sisters.

Now, the largest conundrum of them all: how to help people understand this in a culture drenched in secularism and consumerism, where the primary narrative of Advent/Christmas has been effectively erased from the public forum. Nativity scenes and Christmas carols have been replaced with Santa, elves, reindeer and shopping. Our traditional sacred celebration of these seasons can seem arcane to children and youth attending public schools where holiday songs have replaced sacred carols and whose wish lists consist of gifts costing hundreds of dollars. In my experience, many young people actually have not heard the full story of the birth of Jesus - or at least they have not put the pieces they have heard together.

Many adults, in their insatiable search for "the perfect" Christmas and just the right gifts, meals and other Christmas trappings, may be so focused on those details there is little room to consider any higher spiritual meaning to the season. If their family has a tradition of going to church, they do so, but often as a habit. That's why we have the "Chr-Easters"- those who only attend on Christmas and Easter - as part of their family ritual for celebrating the "holidays."

Our challenge as catechists is to keep the story of Incarnation and its meaning alive in a culture trying its level best to deny it. Certainly when those pews are more full at Christmas-time, parish leaders and clergy have an opportunity to extend hospitality and evangelize. However, I believe the greatest way we evangelize is through our own personal witness.  We need to embody the Christ we celebrate at Christmas - to become living disciples actively engaged in fulfilling the promise of the Incarnation to change the world for the better by infusing it with what God desires for us - a world of peace, justice and plenty for all people.


  1. The Nativity pic reminds me, last week my catechism class, and I drew a Nativity on the board one step at a time. As I read from Isaiah's Christmas prophecies, the kids decided which bit of the scene was being foretold. As I drew each part, we'd discuss the significance. This is a yearly thing, the kids have fun, and they learn something as well.

    Scroll down to get to the Nativity.

  2. Thanks for this -- looks like a great activity forthe classroom!