Lift up your heads. Your redemption is at hand. (Luke 21:28)
Why do we keep the season of Advent? To prepare ourselves spiritually to celebrate Christmas.
How do we prepare ourselves spiritually to celebrate Christmas? Try to pray more. Make a good Confession. Go to Father Mark’s Advent talks with Vespers and Benediction on Sunday afternoons. Yes. But there’s more.
Who celebrated Christmas in the right way, the way we want to imitate? Saints Zechariah and Elizabeth, St. Joseph, Our Lady, the shepherds in the fields near Bethlehem. In other words, we want to celebrate Christmas like the poor, faithful people of ancient Israel who longed for redemption.
A massive spiritual problem we face: “Christmas” obviously is a household word. Everybody spends December thinking about Christmas. But there can be a big difference between thinking about Christmas and longing for redemption.
Now, I’m not even trying to harp about the “commercialization” of Christmas. Who knows? Maybe if St. Joseph could have driven the Blessed Mother around in an Audi which he got at the December Sales Event, he might have been glad to be able to do it. An Audi is an improvement on a camel.
Christmas certainly has become ridiculously commercialized. But there’s nothing inherently unholy about buying people sweaters. Now, I think we as a nation owe a big apology to everyone who had to work on “Black Friday,” or even “Dark Grey Thursday” night. But that doesn’t mean that giving Christmas presents is a sin or that Christmas trees and Santa Clause are from the devil.
But what might make us start to wonder about the fundamental sanity of the world is this: It seems like Christmas is a universal preoccupation, but the Christ is not. People will knock each other over to save big money at a Holiday Sale. But does anyone want to save his or her soul? Getting nice presents can make a person happy, sure enough. But what about getting redemption from sin and death? Isn’t that even better?
The ancient Israelites knew something about suffering the fate of slaves. As the history of their nation was just beginning, the Egyptians reduced them to a cruel, hard lot. Hebrew slavery in Egypt had passed into ancient history by the time the Blessed Virgin and St. Joseph travelled to Bethlehem. But the Israelites still knew about having to do the bidding of others. After all, Joseph and Our Lady were making the long, hard trip because of the Caesar Augustus’ imperial edict.
They longed for redemption. The holy Israelites of King Herod’s time wanted liberation from the Roman overlords. But they also knew that these Romans who ordered them around—they knew that the Romans had taken over the job from the previous overlords, the Greeks. And the Greeks had taken it over from the preceding overlords, the Persians—who had taken over from the Babylonians, who had taken over from the Assyrians…
In other words, our ancient heroes of Advent knew that the world had grown old with injustice. They knew that to be enslaved at the hands of another human being offended their dignity, but being the slaves of the Devil was worse. It seemed that the world had been enslaved to evil powers since time immemorial.
The priests in the Temple offered one animal sacrifice after another, day after day, year after year, century after century. And yet the priests themselves, and the government—the entire religious life of the people just became more and more materialistic, hedonistic, dissipated, and corrupt.
If some strong warrior came and beat off the Romans, could he also beat off the selfishness and short-sightedness of the Jewish people themselves? And could he rescue them from the inevitability of death?
Some people watch so much t.v. that the jingles of various commercials tend to reverberate in the brain. But the people we want to imitate spiritually had the words of the prophets in their minds like we have blah blah blah from t.v. in our minds. St. Simeon, St. Anna, St. John the Baptist—they invested everything in the fact that the prophecies would come true. The land of shades would give birth. The dry bones in their graves would rattle and hum with life again.
After all, God had promised. The same omnipotent power that had formed the heavens and the earth had given Abraham the ancient promises. The same divine Hand that makes the sun rise every morning had given the words of eternal life to Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and all the other prophetic children of the Covenant.
The people we want to imitate did not want a new unlimited data plan for Christmas. Or Madden 13 for xbox. The people we want to imitate were never even particularly interested in whether or not the Hokies get a bowl berth, or whether the Redskins make the playoffs.
They wanted one thing, and one thing only for Christmas: the Christ. They wanted a righteous Savior. The wanted God’s infinite love to be revealed in full. They wanted uprightness and truth on earth. They wanted eternal life. With all their hearts, they wanted salvation.
They got it.