The two words Advent and Christmass are almost always used together, partly because the two seasons are consecutive, and sadly, because in the minds of too many, there is no real distinction between them. The secular world, with its focus on the commercial aspects associated with gift giving at Christmass pressures us to think about Christmass long before Christmass itself arrives. If you live in a relatively cold climate, such as I do, the weather itself conspires to bring this early Christmass awareness. It is not at all unusual to see my neighbors putting up yard Christmass decorations and lights as early as mid–October simply to have them in place before the winter weather makes outdoor work difficult and dangerous. Most will forebear turning on their lights until the day after Thanksgiving, but by that time, in the minds of most people, “its Christmass time.”
Well, no, its really not, its Advent from the first Sunday of Advent until Christmass Day. And this is where the problem comes, because if people have already been celebrating Christmass for four or five weeks, by the time they get to Christmass Day, they are just about burned out on the celebration, even though the actual feast has just arrived that day. The feast of Christmass lasts for twelve days, beginning on Christmass Day. My Archbishop relates a story about a shocking scene the first year he was in his parish in Arizona. He said he came upon a Christmass tree out by the curb for the trash by 5 pm Christmass Day. This makes the point how completely the people of that house had made their celebration before and earlier on Christmass Day in order that they could be done with the tree long before the sun set on Christmass Day.
It is really very strange to think that the limitless God, the infinite Creator of the Universe, would care one whit for such a flighty, unreliable, unfaithful, insignificant part of His vast creation as is mankind, and yet, for some unfathomable reason, He does care for us; we really don’t know why. We are told in the Book of Genesis that we are made in His image, meaning that in some way we are like God Himself, although it is certainly clear that we lack His complete perfection. But He created us like Himself, for Himself, ultimately to return to Him. And for that reason He does care about us, even though we do not understand His care, and often reject it.
His concern for man is expressed in the plan of salvation, in which He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, the true Son of God and Second Person of the Holy Trinity, to come to earth to preach, to teach, to heal, and to bring the message of salvation to mankind before dying for the sins of the world upon the Cross from whence he then rose from the dead in three days time. This was the First Coming of Jesus Christ, sent by the Father. During the First Coming, Jesus made it clear that He would come again at the end of time, again sent by the Father, but at the Second Coming as Judge of the world. Thus the Father intends to send the Son to the world twice. The First Coming is already accomplished, and the Second Coming is yet to come.
Advent is a time of preparation, a time when we prepare to receive Christ our King in each of His Comings to the world. It is a time to make spiritual preparation for the coming of Jesus Christ into our hearts, whether as the Babe of Bethlehem as in His First Coming, or as the Judge of the World in His Second Coming. Our preparation is really the same in both cases; we are to purify our hearts, to love God and our neighbor, to resist evil, and to work toward our own sanctification with wonder, praise, and gratitude to our heavenly Father for all His benefits to us.
As we think about preparation for Christmass, we tend to focus more on the marvel of the Incarnation, the fact that God Himself chose to become man, to take on human form, with all of its limitations and frailties, to be born in completely ordinary human circumstances of a human mother, the virgin Mary, and be placed in a manger for a crib. How much more helpless could the Lord of all Creation be than to be a human infant, squalling, wet diaper, hungry, perhaps cold. And yet, He submitted to all of this, and ever so much more, in order to take our sins upon Himself, in order to win our salvation. Preparation for Christmass definitely turns our thinking toward the Incarnation and all of the implications of that.
As we think about preparing for the Second Coming, we think about the Last Judgment, the End of Time. No one knows when that will come, of course, but everyone of us knows that for us individually, we move to that point at our death which cannot be too many years away for any of us. It is foolish for us not to take this matter with the utmost seriousness; we will face it some day in the not too far distant future. We must prepare to stand before the Judge and give an accounting, and our only hope is that we may plead for mercy through the blood of Christ Jesus. The support for that plea will be a life lived in faith, showing the evidence of sanctification.
In keeping Christmass itself, let us be focused on the great gift of the Incarnation, the gift of God coming in human form to live with men, instead of the material aspects of the season. It is definitely good to enjoy time spent with family and friends, but the principal purpose should be to ponder to the wonder of the gift of God the Father to mankind in sending His Son as a new born child to a young Jewish woman named Mary in the City of Bethlehem some 2000 years ago. Nothing like that ever happened before, nor will it ever happen again. This was the Christ who had been operative in the Creation, and now was lying in a manger. Everything seems backward, but it is exactly according to the will of the Father. We need to think about that. He is only there because of the will of the Father. We need to think about that also. This is because God loves us.
Thanks be to God!!