December 12, 2014

Rejoice in the Lord

Advent is a time of preparation for Christ’s coming

Archbishop Joseph W. TobinWe all remember the acclamation we used to sing during the Eucharistic Prayer: Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again. All three mysteries of our faith are recalled, and relived, during holy Mass, but the Church provides us with special opportunities to meditate on these holy mysteries. The season of Lent helps us prepare for Christ’s death. Easter celebrates the joy of our Lord’s resurrection. Advent is the season of attentive waiting for the “coming again” of Jesus.

I’ve always thought of Advent as a time of preparation for celebrating Christ’s three comings: at Bethlehem, today, and at the end of time (the parousia).

What we might call the first coming of Jesus, his birth in Bethlehem, is a historical fact as well as a great mystery of God’s grace (the Incarnation). Christmas is the day when we celebrate this mystery of the first coming of Christ, the birth of the God-man, the miraculous appearance of the long-awaited “Emmanuel,” which means “God is with us.”

The final coming of Jesus is not yet a historical event, but we believe it will be one day. Although we do not know the day or the hour when Christ will come again, we are advised by the Lord himself to prepare for it—to be ready. How can we ready ourselves for the final coming of Christ? One way is to prepare ourselves spiritually for Christmas.

Christmas celebrates both mysteries—the first coming of Jesus and his return in glory at the end of time. If we allow ourselves to enter into the richness of this feast, we will be filled with wonder at the miracle of the Lord’s birth in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago. We’ll also be better prepared for his coming again.

We know how to celebrate the Christmas holiday. But the holy day is more elusive. It’s easy to get distracted by the wonderful things that are happening all around us—the joyous music, the good food, the bright lights and the old favorites we watch on television. How do we use this time productively from a spiritual point of view? How do we celebrate the holy day in spite of all the holiday’s customary and enjoyable distractions? How do we prepare for a feast that celebrates a historical event (Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem), a present reality (God-with-us) and a future mystery (Christ’s coming again)?

Here are some suggestions to help all of us get ready for Christmas, the feast that celebrates Christ’s coming—past, present and future:

1. Let’s set aside time for prayer. This should be quiet time, time for each of us to be alone with God. If necessary, go sit in your car in the driveway and spend some quality time with God. Thank him for the gift of Christmas, and for all the blessings in your life. Ask for his help with all the things that are bothering you. Then listen quietly for his response. We may not know it or understand it, but God always responds to our prayers. The best way to prepare for the holy day that is Christmas is to give our hearts to him in prayer.

2. Go to confession. There is no better way to prepare ourselves spiritually than to celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation, to confess our sins, to do penance and to begin again filled with God’s grace. “Do not be afraid,” the Lord tells us repeatedly. We don’t have to carry secret burdens of guilt deep inside us, and we don’t have to let past hurts and disappointments ruin our Christmas celebration. We can ask for—and confidently receive—God’s forgiveness for our own sins, as well as the grace to forgive those who have sinned against us. This sacrament is a great gift from God. Let’s accept it gratefully, and use it wisely!

3. Let’s be more faithful—and more attentive—in our Mass attendance. Advent and Christmas liturgies are among the most beautiful and hope-filled celebrations in the Church calendar. Let’s enjoy the music and the sights and sounds and smells of this amazing time of year to prepare ourselves inwardly for Christ’s coming. Masses on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and throughout the entire Christmas season will fill your heart with gladness, and remind you that God truly is with us, and that he truly is coming again!

4. Give spiritual gifts. Gift-giving is an important part of the Christmas tradition, but the gifts we give—and receive—don’t have to be material things. A smile, a kind word and a helping hand can all be precious gifts, especially when given at the right moment to persons in need. Let’s make this truly the season of giving, but let our gifts be spiritual gifts of self as well as material gifts!

Preparing ourselves spiritually for Christmas isn’t easy. Many things inside us, and all around us, will seek to distract us from concentrating on the wonder of Christ’s birth and the promise that he will come again in glory.

Let’s resist the temptation to experience Christmas as just another holiday. Let’s make it a day of holiness, a day of hope, and a day when we experience once again the powerful presence of Jesus, who really is God-with-us, in our personal lives and in our world.

My prayer for you, and for every individual, family and parish community in central and southern Indiana, is that Christ will come into your hearts in a special way during this holy season.

Maranatha! Come, Lord! Help us be ready for you. Enter into our hearts and homes this Christmas. Teach us to give generously as you do. Help us welcome you, love you and serve you—this Christmas Day and always! †

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