LUKE 21:25-28, 34-36
Advent Vigilance by Rev. Jerome A. Magat
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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Luke writes to explain that
Christ came to save everyone.
Jesus said to his disciples: "There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on earth nations will be in dismay, perplexed by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. But when these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand."
"Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life, and that day catch you be surprise like a trap. For that day will assault everyone who lives on the face of the earth. Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man."
The secularization of Christmas by contemporary society and its over-emphasis on the material aspects on what began as a religious celebration challenges Catholics and other Christians to utilize the season of Advent for its true purpose: preparation for Christmas. The secularized version of Christmas begins on the Friday after Thanksgiving and ends on the evening of Dec. 25. This presents a very difficult obstacle for Catholics who want to use Advent as a preparatory season for Christmas since most Christmas office parties occur well before Christmas Day and the rush for gifts and the season music heard on the airwaves lend to Advent being anything but preparatory.
The Gospel passage for this First Sunday of Advent presents another contrast: Advent invites us to meditate upon the coming of the infant Jesus, nurtured in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the humility and poverty of his coming in the "fullness of time." And yet, the Gospel passage presents the triumphal return of the Lord Jesus in all his glory, power and might. In either scenario, the counsel imparted to us would be the same: "Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life, and that day catch you by surprise ...." In other words, whether we consider the return of Christ at the end of the world or meditate upon the events involving his first coming, preparedness ought to be our proper disposition.
Later in the Gospel passage, our blessed Lord warns us to, "Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent ...." How often do we find ourselves overwhelmed by the material preparations for Christmas with no strength to prepare spiritually? We find ourselves "fitting prayer in" during Advent, instead of "fitting shopping in" and scheduling that less sublime activity around our prayer. While the material and spiritual preparations need not remain mutually exclusive, the latter should always take precedence over the former, if we intend to use Advent well.
Some years ago, I began the practice of keeping a container in my office known to my parishioners as "the bin." The bin" is a plastic five-gallon container that I fill up during the year with future Christmas gifts. By thanksgiving, "the bin" is full and my material preparations are complete before Dec. 1. while it may be too late to embark on such a project this year, I offer it as a simple but highly effective way of avoiding the madness that all too often accompanies what should be a prayerful, peaceful and meditative season.
While there is still time to make a fruitful spiritual preparation for Christmas, be encouraged by the Lord's words in the Gospel passage, referring to those who will be to meet him at the end of time (and this Christmas as well), "But when these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand."
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