Good morning everyone, and happy New Year!
Today’s the first Sunday of Advent and we begin a new Liturgical cycle, and the course of the liturgical cycle is also very much connected to the natural cycle of what we experienced in the seasons. As we all know, our days are much shorter now, right? At times, it can be kind of depressing – it’s like 4 o’clock and it looks like 10, right? But we know that the liturgical season kind of reflects our awakening to the light of the world – coming into Christmas, our days are the shortest and our days are the longest as we continue through this liturgical season, right through Pentecost, where the fullness of who God is is revealed to us.
So today at this first Sunday of Advent, we sit in darkness, if you will, but with this great sense of anticipation knowing that as we look upon around us in our world, and how the light will continually get stronger and brighter and longer, so too our journey with the Lord becomes stronger and brighter and more enlightening.
This week I had two fun things that happened to me – they were a kind, of I guess, related to the season. Definitely first off when I get ready in the morning I also put on KDFC which is the classical music station here in the San Francisco area, and I have it on my phone so I use an app. But they announced that they have like another channel that is going to be the Holiday Spirit Channel and they say you can flip back and forth if you want to go to the regular programming. I wanted to hear holiday music, so I was like, okay well I’ll try out the holiday music, and I was really taken by it because it was just such beautiful music – and really they can call it a holiday station but it really was a Christmas station, because it was so much classical music which is all rooted in the Christian tradition, and so is very beautiful to be able to hear this music this time of year, and so I was very excited when I discovered it.
Secondly, I was excited because yesterday I took all of my Christmas cards and mailed them at the post office. Now I’m at a point where I send over 300 Christmas cards each year, and the very fact I got it all done before December actually was not short of a miracle, so God is good! But I was also reflecting upon what brought me to organizing my Christmas cards, playing together, and of course one thing you have to do to go and buy stamps, right? And it was a few weeks back, I was back home on the East Coast and I was “home home” – I wasn’t actually in New York: I was in Pennsylvania, in Allentown and actually really happy because there’s two folks here from Allentown today!
To friends and I, when I go home, I have little traditions I like to do ,and one thing I like to do is when it gets closer to the Christmas season, I go to the main post office in downtown Allentown to buy my Christmas stamps. And it’s a nice little pilgrimage, if you will, going downtown and doing this whole thing so I show up there and I’m like , are the Christmas stamps here? and so there I guess there have been different ones you could select from.
So they show me the selections and one was like a snowflake, one was like Santa Claus, and when was like something like a reindeer or something. I said, where’s the religious ones? We don’t have those, they don’t really sell, they don’t really buy those, but let me check out and see if they have some. So they went back. Lo and behold, no religious stamps. No traditional image of the Madonna and child nowhere to be found. This is the main post office in downtown Allentown. Now that may not mean much to yo,u but that’s like if you want to get anything post office related that’s where you would go and the fact that they didn’t have them was just perplexed by.
So I went to another post office and I walk in and they had a poster of the Christmas stamp, the religious Christmas stamps. I was like okay, great I’ll buy them here. So I asked for the religious stamps and then they asked, how many do you need? I mean a lot. Well what’s a lot? I said what like over 300. I don’t know if we have that many. Okay, well then I’ll just take whatever you have.
So I essentiall cleaned them out of their stamps, of the religious stamps, and I was surprised because there was a younger person behind the desk. He says to the person who was serving me, oh thank God you bought those stamps, so we can take that stupid poster down – I actually hate this poster, I hate this stamp.
I was just so shaken by the whole thing becauseit’s like you know, regardless of what you think about the religious aspect of the holiday season, to say in front of the person who just bought 300 stamps that this is an ugly stamp and they can’t wait to take the poster down just makes me think about like, do we even have like a sense of like manners.
So right now I’m not saying all this as a way to kind of get us all upset with the secularization of a holiday time because, clearly enough, we can talk about that a lot, but what I am saying is that this time of Advent is a time where we have to really think about what are we individually doing to be: a means of Hope and what is often a hopeless world.
Somehow the impression of Christianity is not acquainted with being people of Hope . Now we know that from different places that we hear things Christians are judgemental, they’re too doctrinal, too too narrow-minded there to whatever. Not often do we think that Christians in general are people of Hope, people of Peace as reflected in the First Reading, people of light and joy as reflected in the Second.
That doesn’t seem to be equated with the Christian mindset or at least with the Christian interaction, somehow the whole notion of Christianity being a people of hope has now been mitigated to just being a people who are separate, somehow almost even mad at the world. Yet as we continue to deal with the secularization of the holiday time, each one of us has a great opportunity not to complain about it, and not to just kind, of you know, forced to say Merry Christmas when people say Happy Holidays or things like that, but generally look at what it means to be intentional and what it is that we are hoping for during this time of preparation for Christmas.
You know Advent is a very confusing season in lots of ways, because first off we don’t really know what we’re supposed to be doing, because we know that Jesus has already shown up, right, two thousand years ago, so it’s not as if we’re going to have to pretend that He didn’t show up and then we’ll all were surprised on Christmas that He is here, right? So it’s not just simply like we’re kind of like not thinking that Jesus is actually alive in our midst today and also it’s a confusing season because of the fact that as much as were trying to not be too over Christmassy by trying to have this kind of more spirit of solitude, preparation, almost repentance
We realize that we have to deal with the preparation of Christmas time. We’re going to have to write Christmas cards. We’re going to have to get the house ready and decorated for Christmas. We’re going to have to buy Christmas gifts. So we have to do things to get ready for Christmas. it’s not as if we can pretend that on Christmas day then we start getting into the Christmas season, so it’s a confusing season because it’s hard for us to understand what are we as Christians supposed to be doing. We can’t just pretend that Jesus isn’t around, nor can we just somehow put off all of our Christmas preparation until Christmas Day.
So how can we actually look at this season as a way to integrate what it means to actually do the physical preparations for Christmas, but with a spirit of intentional hope. You know why is saying to you about how exciting it was I found that classical music station that had Christmas music: it made me hope, in fact it made me want to tell other people about that station. Go and listen to it. Who knows what the beauty of that music can do to transform hearts. When I was running out my Christmas cards it brought me hope, because I don’t know exactly what type of place people are going to be in when they receive that car,d in the message that’s in the card but maybe it might just do the right thing they need to hear when they need to hear it.
I was just recently this morning even looking at some of the gifts already purchased to give to godchildren of mine and it brought me a certain type of Hope, because certainly these books – they’re like children’s books – really help young people grow in their faith and that also makes me hopeful. Now all three of these things are ways that I have to navigate in the day, today were writing Christmas cards, listening to Christmas music, buying Christmas gifts, but it is done with an idea that what it is that we are doing is meant to be given even as a gift in this time of preparation.
You know, of the great things I’ve learned about being here in California is that this entire state was essentially founded by Christian missionaries . We don’t have to go far anywhere to realize the great impact Christianity has had in this part of the country. San Francisco – St. Francis of Asissi – what made the missionaries effective in bringing Christianity to the natives of this part of the country, how are they able to do it in – we somehow think that it was some type of massive indoctrination process, but when I visited the Carmel Mission I was struck by one thing at the Franciscan missionaries did not really have a set program as to how they were going to bring the good news of Jesus is Love into the world. They may have had ideas of how to do it but the most effective thing that left the most impressionable aspect are the most impressionable heart upon the natives was that these Franciscan missionaries curated music. They would actually make gardens for no purpose other than to just rejoice in the beauty of flowers. Their buildings and structures allows cells to not just be functional but to be taken up into beauty, and this was extremely perplexing to the natives in this area of the country. Why would you spend your time just growing flowers that were just beautiful for the sake of being beautiful, that would eventually just die anyway. Why would you build buildings that were not just simply about making sure that you had a roof over your head but would somehow bring you into a different place of experience.
Why do those things? It was simply because the Franciscans understood that what they were doing was participating in the beauty of God. But this was not simply about them showing off anything other than giving reverence and worship to God in and through Beauty, through what was capable of the human hands. And I think there’s a great lesson for us to take from what our forefathers and sisters who brought Christianity to this land as to how we can live, how can we be a people of hope, that curates beauty around us .
Because to be struck and to be delighted by something that is beautiful, that is truly beautiful, is something that you want to share. You don’t want to keep it for yourself. You want to share it and what we’re doing all the things around our house getting ready for Christmas this time, what are we doing for ourselves and feeling how we have to kind of somehow fit the mold or what are we doing as a way to kind of curate Beauty. And to bring it to those who lack Beauty.
I mentioned this story before – there was this nun back in Brooklyn, New York who I was close with who was sitting on a pastoral Council at a parish. It was a very very poor parish and the decision came up with how to deal with this large donation that they received – were they going to use it investing in fixing the church which was in very bad repair, or were they going to use it for social services in the neighborhood? And the sister whom I’m friends with said people need food, people need clothing, people need ways to live better. We have to take this money and we have to be impactful in our local community. And clearly was a reasonable position.
But yet there was a woman on that same Council who lives in the projects and she said, Sister, no – use that money to beautify the church. Because each time when I go back to my apartment and I walk up the steps, there’s vomit on the floor.There’s usually a man passed out laying on the ground. It’s dark. It’s dingy. It’s smelly. When I come to church, I want to be able to experience that which I don’t experience day to day, and all the money in the world is not going to fix all of these apartments and all these buildings, but you can use that money to make this place a means of Hope, intentional hope in a hopeless world.
So perhaps this Advent, maybe reflect upon what it means to be Christians. We have a bad name out there. People think that we’re all judgmental, ever nitpicky, that we just are imposing in our doctrine, that we’re mad because everything’s being secualized too much. Yet to be a person who is a follower of Jesus Christ is one who knows that, that which is in this world that is broken is a means to be healed, and that can only bring us to one place and that is of hope
As we come to approach this altar to receive Hope, to receive Jesus, we know that we are not alone, and then we also know that we never have to be hopeful on our own, but hopeful in and through the One that we receive.
May we be able to receive Jesus even more this Christmas season, and God bless you