The season of Advent helps prepare us to receive the gift of Christ every day.
Christmas decorations went up in stores almost as fast as the Halloween costumes, lawn decorations, and paraphernalia came down, marking the transition between the No. 2 and the No. 1 shopping seasons of the year. And given the St. Louis Cardinal’s game six miracle and game seven win of the World Series at the end of October, it might have seemed fitting to begin celebrating the Christmas season almost two months early.
But the Church’s liturgical calendar, with its feasts and seasons that serve to unfold the mystery of Christ, should help us resist society’s attempt to secularize and devalue the truth and meaning of Advent and Christmas.
Christmas without Advent or, for that matter, Easter without Lent, is like a wedding without a courtship, the New Testament without the Old, a World Series without the playoffs. Failing to celebrate Advent separates us from a season of hope that is meant to help us to live differently, to help purify and transform us. For many, Advent represents but a countdown of “shopping days left till Christmas,” and the season’s message of hope is reduced to the ideal present one hopes to receive. And if people should not receive what they want, there is always what many refer to as the “second” Christmas, when “gift exchange” takes on its other meaning and we are able to get what we wanted.
Not since the 1965 debut of Charles Schulz’s A Charlie Brown Christmas have television stations aired a program with a scene as beautiful as Linus’s scriptural answer to Charlie Brown’s question, “Can anyone tell me what Christmas is all about?”
Gone are the Bob Hope and Andy Williams Christmas specials that were not afraid to keep Christ in their music and message. Unfortunately, Charles Schulz’s Halloween program It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, did not feature a similar question, “Can anyone tell me what All Saints day is all about?”
Holidays, lest we forget, are really “holy days,” and All Saints is a case in point. First celebrated as the feast of martyrs, the Church later expanded it to include all her saints, whose example of sacrificial love inspires our own hope in Christ’s final victory. It is this hope we carry over into our commemoration the following day, in praying for the faithful departed: All Souls. But given the extreme market surrounding Halloween, with its secular and dark focus, one has almost the impression that All Saints and All Souls day have been supplanted by the celebration of “All Damned.”
During this Advent, a season of expectant joy, I am reminded of a hymn by Father John Foley, SJ, with a message I wish to convey to you: “Patience, People.” The song’s refrain—“Patience, people, for the Lord is coming”— should remind us that although Christ is among us, especially in the Blessed Sacrament, he is present also in the future that we await but which all too often is overshadowed by our fears.
The hymn also reminds us not to “grumble, one against another.” With the full implementation of the new Roman Missal with Advent’s beginning, we will need lots of patience with one another because we will all make mistakes as we learn the different responses and prayers. Please be particularly patient with your priests during this time. They too will need to get used to all the changes associated with the new Missal, all of which will only serve to deepen our understanding and love of the Mass.
In closing, I’d like to mention another scene from A Charlie Brown Christmas. While playing the psychiatrist, Lucy calls out a litany of phobias to Charlie Brown that might help explain his seasonal depression. When she mentions “pantophobia”—fear of everything—Charlie Brown yells, “That’s it!”
Certainly, to the degree secularism has succeeded in taking hope out of Advent and Christ out of Christmas, society has grown more fearful. But the first words of the angel of the Lord to the shepherds are words we need to embrace in Christ: “You have nothing to fear!” (Luke 2:10).
So long as we endeavor to keep Christ in Christmas and in every day of our life, we will have the hope that casts out all fear. “Patience, people, for the Lord is coming.”