Reflection – 21 December
The End of Advent?
Christmas is almost upon us! Despite all that has happened this year, despite all that is currently going on and even in spite of the Government virtually ‘cancelling Christmas’ at a social level, there is still a huge amount to rejoice over! Even if there are COVID-19-induced food shortages, rising rates of infection and increased levels of depression brought on by social isolation and loneliness, Christmas is a time for both hope and joy.
The secular world around us wants and expects that hope and joy, but it has largely forgotten the reason, the only real reason why there is hope and joy. The world parties but, at the end of the day, it has no true cause for its parties. Just as the world parties desperately at New Year, so too does it at Christmas, almost as if the party itself is the cause of any joy that may be felt. Of course, there is the determination that we must all party at Christmas because the money we spend is needed in the retail sector and many businesses make most of the year’s profits at Christmas and, if truth be told, we all feel like we need something to cheer us up in the midst of the dark, cold, and gloomy nights - although they still party in Australia, where my brother lives, even without that excuse!
For Christians, the true and only real reason for all our celebrations lies not in Santa Claus, presents, rich food or anything else that the world can offer. Rather, it lies in the single FACT that Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus in a cave-stable in Bethlehem, two thousand years ago and that is precisely because that little child is none other than God himself, who has taken our humanity upon him, not so that ‘he can show us how to live’ (though, of course, that is a subordinate part of the principal matter), but that he enables us to receive forgiveness for our sins, no matter how black they may be, for there are no limits to the mercy of God – and enables us to becomes sharers in the Divine nature and inheritors of eternal life. It is that which gives us cause for true joy, for real celebration! Even death itself cannot offer us a barrier to this joy, for in spite of all appearances, death has been conquered by Jesus and is now, whilst still remaining a real cause of existential fear, for it cannot be avoided and its threshold must be crossed alone, but the doorway to eternal life. Christmas is the joyful, ecstatic event which brings our Advent journey to an end in the anticipation of the joyous feast in God’s Kingdom.
Yet Advent, in a very real sense, does not end at Christmas but continues on through the year and through all the years of our lives. Jesus repeatedly reminded us that this world is not the true world and that God’s Kingdom lies before us – if we want it, for God forces nobody. His constant refrain is, “Be prepared!”, for we do not know when he will return to bring this world to its close. Yet to focus on the actual ending of this world is an error, for it can too easily lead us into complacency. After all, we do not know if we shall be alive to see it and, realistically, we probably won’t be! Yet that is to forget that we all have a judgement to face at the end of our lives. It does not really matter if Christ has not returned by then, for our own short lives are brought to an end by the natural event of death and, nothing surer, we will face God at that moment. “Be prepared!” is a cry we need to heed at all times, for we wish to be sharers in God’s Kingdom and therefore we need to be ready.
Advent, then is a ‘time’ of preparation which lasts our entire lives. We need to look forward joyously, for it is the true cause of our joy. We need to be prepared by frequenting the Sacraments God has provided for us – particularly the Eucharist and Confession. We need to be charitable, both in our giving in so far as we may and in giving of our time and talents for the benefit of others. We should seek to obey God’s commandments and we must be ready to forgive others, for the forgiveness we offer will be the forgiveness granted to us. And we should have a particular care to pray for the dead as they continue their journey to God, just as, one day, we will wish others to pray for us in our turn.
Christianity is the true ‘religion of life’, for it is in Jesus Christ alone that we find the real joy associated with Christmas. The Advent journey of our lives finds its completion in the love of God which has no limit and no end, and which will bring us to the feast which has no end and no limits to its joy. May God grant you peace and joy as we prepare for the Lord’s Birthday celebrations at this and every other Christmas.