Cimply Putting It…
Let’s get ready for a birthday party…I don’t know exactly when it happens—when we turn 30 or 40 or 50, but certainly when one is in their 60’s, birthdays aren’t that big of a deal. In fact they come around way too fast. But when I go into the classrooms of St. Michael School I notice how important birthdays are to kids. Perhaps that is why they identify so strongly with Jesus’ birthday because birthdays occupy a central place in their world. Preschoolers and young children can offer no higher compliment to their peers than an invitation to their birthday party. On the other hand, the words, “Well then, you can’t come to my birthday party!” strike a strong blow to a four-year old that most of us grown-ups can’t even understand. In the midst of a young child’s attempt to understand and control his/her life and his/her relationships with others, Christmas appears on the horizon as a celebration like no other. Now, it seems to me, the child realizes the whole world seems to be celebrating Jesus’ birthday—and I’m invited!
From what we can comb from the Bible the early Christians seemed to believe that Jesus’ return would occur soon. Celebrating Christmas as we do today probably would not have made any sense to them. Jesus’ disciples lived in an ongoing advent, a preparation time, believing that his prophesies of the destruction of Jerusalem would come to pass even in their own lifetimes. Jesus’ words must have created great consternation among his followers, for they recorded his predictions in our Gospels. Although he promised redemption near at hand for the faithful, such a promise must have provided little comfort to those who heard him, for Jesus also described nations in anguish, the powers in the heavens shaken, and people dying of fright from the mere anticipation of the coming of the Son of Man. Probably his listeners wondered to themselves, “Will I really find myself among those going to heaven? Or will I be one of those upon whom the trap will spring, catching me unprepared, exposing my unworthiness?”
So, what do Jesus’ prophesies mean for you and me in 2014? We begin this season amid thoughts of putting away Thanksgiving platters and getting out Christmas decorations. We do not respond with the same urgency as the disciples must have—we do not live with the same sense of imminence. And without that sense of urgency, we may find it easier to avoid the challenge which each Advent season places before us.
At least for me, some part of me prefers simply to maintain a more childlike understanding of Christmas and focus my attention on getting ready to celebrate the birthday of Jesus. I believe Jesus himself might find great irony in the fact that the Advent season coincides so neatly with the time of year when nutritionists say we gain an average of seven pounds, a time that we often feel quite bloated from various parties and gatherings. In between searching for Christmas gifts, sending some Christmas cards, decorating the insides and outsides of our homes and attending office parties, we still must find time to travel to family gatherings. With Advent full of so many distractions, who has time to “be on watch” for the coming of the Lord? Sometimes we get so busy we miss the Advent season entirely.
We can learn from children. They approach celebrations with single-mindedness that we seem to lose later on in life. A little guy or gal begins gleefully planning his/her own birthday party months in advance. I get a kick out of kids who will tell me that their birthday is only four months away and they are already excited.
Advent reminds us, as children do, that as faithful people we need not fear the future but embrace it with joy and hope. This season calls us to find ways to unite a child’s instinctive sense of boundless joy and the possibilities of new life.
So what prevents us from making this happen? Designers of mobile apps are well acquainted with our lack of patience. Many mobile games offer upgrades or perks that can be earned by patiently progressing through the game, but they can also be enjoyed immediately for a price. Marketers of these games not only test our impatience; they count on it. They find profit by doing business in a society whose mantra is “I want it now!” or “I can’t wait for Christmas!” Jesus relied on many agricultural symbols to help us understand our faith. In South Dakota, a state that is dependent on agriculture, we can relate to his words. Jesus used the metaphor of a farmer to describe his return. Farmers wait for the soil’s yield, but their waiting is graced by the diligent work of tilling, planting and weeding. The farmer also waits patiently in faith for the Lord to provide the life-giving rain.
One saint put it this way, “Attention to little things is a great thing.” Jesus was a master at using little things—loaves of bread and a few fish—to feed many. In this season that sometimes shoots of extravagance and “larger is better,” the Advent message invites us to attentively notice and tenderly treat the small things in our lives.
It’s a great birthday party that we are going to celebrate in less than a month. If we were pre-school kids we would be getting more and more excited each day. The Son of God was born into a little people, a nation of little importance….He took flesh among us. There is a birthday party coming and we are all invited. Let’s get excited about it and start preparing for it now. Make it the best Advent ever! clc