Advent is a time when you can peek at the gift before December 25, and you won’t even be sent to your room!
It’s sometimes hard to separate the Season of Advent from the Season of Christmas. The church wants us to make a clear delineated distinction between the two seasons, but I must admit, that I sometimes wonder if that’s even possible. The Advent wreath gently whispers, “wait.” But the rest of the world is telling us we better start gearing up thinking about presents and wrapping paper, decorations and Christmas cards.
Now, as a priest in the church, I’m expected to be somewhat protective of the church seasons, but I’ll confess to you that I have mellowed some over the years. I’m not quite as interested in joining the Advent police, snooping around in sacristies looking for evidence of any violations.
I have come to realize that the line between waiting for a gift and opening the gift is a fine line indeed. Sometimes in my life, I haven’t been able to tell the difference.
I’m going to try, in this reflection, to write about “waiting for the gift,” but I trust that you’ll forgive me if I spoil the surprise, and go a little too far, and maybe even tear a few ribbons and wrapping paper.
Do any of you remember what I like to call that “One Special Gift Phenomenon?” When I was a child, every Christmas there was always ONE gift under the tree that completely captivated me. There might have been six or seven gifts there with my name on them, but there was always one that drew me in like a magnet; one that charmed me more than any of the others.
Do any of you remember that gift? It’s the one that you poke at and squeeze and stretch, compress and rattle, and shake and smell until it almost unwraps itself. And even though you’ve read the to/from tag on it fifty times already, you read it again just to savor the reassurance that it is indeed for you!
You know, I really think that of all the Christmas traditions out there, from eggnog to sitting in Santa’s lap, gift giving is the most symbolic of Advent.
Advent is the season that comes around every early winter to remind us that we live in a God invaded world. It’s here to remind us of the importance of expectation and anticipation. Advent is a season that begs us to wonder what God is going to give us next. Advent is a four-week season that is designed to deflate the bumper sticker that says tomorrow has been cancelled due to lack of enthusiasm.
This season reminds us that there is a package waiting for us. The to/from tag will come next week in the form of one John the Baptist calling to us from the wilderness. It’s a package that is wrapped in the most beautiful way; it’s a package wrapped in the beauty of intense and passionate love. For God so loved the world!
It is, however, a gift that requires each of us to go through the preparatory waiting period lest we fail to treasure its magnificence. It’s a gift that should be closely examined these four weeks before Christmas. It should be pinched and shaken with all the excitement and wonder and anticipation of a miracle. And in that ritual, we should discover that just maybe, in the middle of a cold winter’s night, it might be possible to come to the realization that tomorrow doesn’t have to be like yesterday.
When I was about eight or nine years old, I was bored one day in early December, and I began to rummage around in the garage.
Lo and behold, I stumbled on something marvelous. It was a shiny silver airplane. It was so big I could barely hold it with both hands. When you turned it on, lights flashed inside and out, and the propellers, all four of them, began to spin, and the landing wheels turned, and the motors roared. I couldn’t believe that I had found something so wonderful in what was probably the most cluttered and dusty garage in our neighborhood.
Where did this come from? I had to know. I ran into the house, and I asked my mother about this wonderful find of mine. I know now what I didn’t know then. She and my father had hidden that giant silver airplane in the garage, and it was to be a Christmas present for me.
My mother was fast on her feet, however, she said that it was for one of my cousins, and she was hiding it for my uncle until Christmas. I bought the whole story.
I was instructed to not touch it again and to stay out of the garage, but my mind would always wander there in awe of that box that held the shiny plane on the shelf in there.
Can you imagine my surprise when I found out on Christmas Day that the beautiful silver airplane was for me? I can’t remember very many Christmases where there was more joy in my heart. The fact that I peeked at the gift before December 25thdidn’t at all diminish the joy of receiving the gift on Christmas day!
Now, at this point, I may have crossed over that fine line between Advent and Christmas, but before you report me to my diocesan bishop, please know that my intention was to offer you that story not to call your attention to Christmas, but to deliver you right into the heart of Advent! You see, I got to lay my eyes on that gift and to relish it, but it wasn’t until Christmas that I discovered that it indeed was truly mine!
In today’s Gospel, Jesus says he’s going to come to us, and when he says that we don’t know when, he doesn’t mean that sometimes he’s here and sometimes he isn’t; he means that we will sometimes discover the Christ in our midst at the most unexpected hour.
Have you ever thought, that as the Body of Christ, each of you can be such a gift to each other? I wonder how often the hour of worship on Sunday has been the unexpected hour for both the celebrant and those doing the celebrating.
Jesus Christ is the gift under our tree during Advent, and Advent is here so that on Christmas we will know, beyond a shadow of any doubt, that the gift of Jesus Christ is indeed ours, and because of that we are also the gift!
Advent is not here to tell us WHEN Jesus will come, for he will come many times. He will come on Sunday in the Sacrament we share together. He will come in the love of a mother or the hug of a friend. He will also come in some very unlikely of moments, some of them even more unlikely than the little town of Bethlehem during a Roman occupation.
This writer has a confession to make. I have always had trouble with the idea of the Second Coming of Christ. When we recite the proclamation of the mystery of our faith, Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again, I always want to add, and again, and again, and again. Biblical scholars who know more than I do about things like the Second Coming and Eschatology have trouble distinguishing when Jesus is talking about the destruction of Jerusalem and when he is talking about his return to us. I think that is why we read about some scary events along with great joy in the Advent Gospels like the one assigned for this First Sunday of Advent. The comings of Christ to us are truly gifts that bring Joy for us to enjoy.
My friends in Christ, the church has given us a four-week moment to squeeze and compress that gift. It’s O.K. Go ahead and take a good look at the gift, but get used to the idea that the gift is indeed FOR YOU to finally open and cherish!
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