Catholic Exchange: Christmas-The Light in the Darkness

During Advent every year I try to imagine what it was like for the people of Israel as they waited for the fulfillment of the promises to Abraham, David, and the prophets. We live in a time after the Paschal Mystery, but we do still wait for Christ in the Second Coming. We approach Christmas each year knowing that Christ has come and He is reigning over the universe. We live in the light of the Son of God who became a baby, died a prophet’s death on the Cross, and rose from the dead.

The Israelites lived for centuries suffering exile, persecution, and darkness. As in our own Fallen lives, much of what they suffered was self-inflicted because of sin, but God repeatedly comes to their aid and our aid despite the battle we wage against the darkness in our own hearts. God never forgets us, nor ceases to forgive us when we come to Him with contrite hearts. Christ is the light of the world, or as Lumen Gentiumbegins: “Christ came to be the light to the nations (LG 1).”

The Solemnity of the Nativity of Our Lord is the time we celebrate the fulfillment of God’s plan to bring light to a Fallen world. As C.S. Lewis said in Mere Christianity:

Enemy-occupied territory — that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us to take part in a great campaign of sabotage.

Christmas is the stealthy landing behind enemy lines in which God condescends Himself to become a babe in a manger in order to bring about the salvation of the world. He descends into the utter darkness, weakness, and helplessness of the human condition so that He may shed a great light upon us and draw us into friendship with Him. This is accomplished in the most unexpected way imaginable!

There is little doubt as we look at the world around us that we live in Enemy territory. The news is a constant barrage of violence, injustice, disease, natural disasters, and suffering. Every single day people suffer immensely. In truth, the greatest suffering and tragedy to befall each one of us is sin. From a material perspective this doesn’t seem to be the case, but in truth it is spiritual wounds that cause the most damage to us and our relationships. Christ tells us: “There is nothing concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have said in the darkness will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed on the housetops. I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body but after that can do no more (Luke 12:2-4).” Sin is what we do in darkness, but all will be brought into the light of God. It is this darkness that Our Lord seeks to free us from by His divine light.

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Catholic Exchange: What Will We Give Jesus for His Birthday?

We are now in the final days of Advent. These last days are a good time to fully prepare ourselves for the coming of Our Lord at Christmas. If we have not taken the time to enter into prayerful quiet, now is a good time to do so. If we do not enter into the preparation of Advent, there is a good chance we will miss the true joy of Christmas, because we will not have taken the time to prepare our hearts fully for the coming of Our Savior. A couple of weeks ago, my parish priest asked us a question in order to help us prepare for Christmas. He asked, “What are we going to give Jesus for His birthday?” Ever since Father spoke these words, they have been on my mind. What am I going to give Jesus for His birthday?

Whose birthday is it anyway?

To be honest, it is such a simple question, that it is often lost on us; this includes me. Often, we end up making this one of the busiest and most material times of the year. As parents, my husband and I have tried to cut back on the material and busy sides of Advent and Christmas. We spent one too many Christmases with family and friends watching kids tear into far too many gifts only to cast them aside. The desire for more, more, more was all over their faces. More of what, exactly? Things that can never in principle make them truly happy? We realized early on that we cannot hope to teach our daughter holiness if Christmas is seen as an accumulation of large quantities of stuff. We cut back to three gifts from us, which represent the gifts of the Magi. All other gifts are from grandparents and other family. Even then, it has been difficult to maintain temperance in this regard because my husband and I are rather counter-cultural in this approach.

Our reason for this refocus is because it is very easy in our culture to focus on the material aspects of Christmas. We are inundated with the idea that buying the “perfect” gift will achieve happiness for our loved ones or ourselves. Advertising campaigns have even switched to telling us that we “deserve to buy ourselves the perfect gift this Christmas.” We hear this on the radio, see it on TV, and we are bombarded whenever we walk into a store this time of year. I notice a tendency in my own daughter to want stuff and lots of it. Of course, hours or days later she will cast aside this item she had to have since it has served its temporary purpose. I have been asking God how to temperately celebrate His birth in a manner that is a balance between merriment, cheer, self-emptying love, virtuous living, and a focus on Him. Then came Father’s question to all of us, to me.

In the Latin Rite, we can easily forget that Advent is a penitential season. It is not as strict as Lent and often the penitential aspects are not mentioned, but for all intents and purposes, Advent is penitential. We are told to prepare for the coming of Our Lord at Christmas and in the Parousia. If Christ came again in the Second Coming at this very moment, would we be prepared? We are called to constantly prepare our hearts for His coming. This is a call to grow in holiness, to deepen our prayer lives, frequent the sacraments, and to consider those areas where vice rules over virtue. The Catholic understanding is not that we have to be merely “good people”. That idea comes from the post-modern heresy of moral therapeutic deism. We are called to be saints, not “good people”. In Lent, we consider something to give up to grow in holiness to prepare for the great mysteries of Holy Week. In that same vein: What is it we are going to give Our Lord and Savior at Christmas?

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Third Week of Advent Reflection: Needing a Savior

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We have made it more than half way through Advent.  Next week we will celebrate the Feast of the Nativity and begin the Christmas season.  Our joy is even greater, as we passed through Gaudete (rejoice) Sunday.  We are nearing the end of this season of waiting in joyful hope, although, we wait in joyful hope daily for the Second Coming.

 
Something that I have been thinking about is how it is that we come to wait in joyful hope.  This season is meaningless to those who do not acknowledge the need for a Savior.  In a culture that denies the existence of sin, it is impossible to find that joy.  Each of us must look deep into our hearts and realize that we are powerless in the face of sin unless we fall on Christ.
 
It fascinates me how much the Judeo-Christian archetypes permeate our society and yet we ignore the presence of evil.  Our culture tries to shake off its Christian roots, but just can’t seem to do it fully.  We are always looking for a hero, a savior: Superman, Batman, Spiderman, Iron Man, Captain America, etc.  These heroes are all over our culture.  There is something in our human make-up that yearns for saving.  These are made up heroes, while Jesus Christ, the God-Man came to save all from sin and death. Somewhere deep inside of our depravity we know that we cannot go it alone.  Many of us go throughout our daily lives without even looking into our sin.  Instead we block it out with  noise and distractions.  It is difficult to come to grips with the pain and evil of sin.  We don’t want to think about it because it causes despair, when it is not viewed in the Light of Christ.  As Matthew Kelly says, ‘the division between good and evil is down every human heart, yours and mine.’  Every single person is capable of great evil and great good.
 
However, because of sin’s destructive nature we cannot battle it alone. In the Light of Christ, we begin to see our terrible ways and desire to correct them.  That desire can only come from Him, cleansing and healing only come from the grace of Jesus Christ.  He shows us the path of holiness to walk.  He shows us the Way.  Without Him as a guide we wander from one sin to the next, without even understanding that our unhappiness comes from those sins.
 
There are so many people throughout the world who live this season without Jesus Christ.  Our society at large focuses more on buying things than it does on what Christmas is all about.  Meanwhile, the Church waits peacefully throughout Advent for the True Gift of Christmas, the Incarnation.  Our joy is made complete in Him.  Without Jesus Christ there is no Advent and there is no Christmas.  Instead we have another day, that may come with some happiness with family and friends.  It may come with the fleeting happiness of a new possession acquired.  But, it does not bring peace to our restless souls.  Instead December 25th is a day like any other day, that passes all too quickly.
 
As Catholics, we need to show the world where True Joy lies.  He is in a manger waiting to free us all.  We wait for one more week for His coming at Christmas.  Our anticipation building, not because of shiny boxes and twinkle lights.  No, it is because Love is calling each one of us, and when we accept, it is joy that we receive.  Advent is truly a blessed season because it reminds us what we truly long for and it cannot be bought.  It is freely given, we only have to accept and follow Him.  Advent blessings!