First Sunday in Advent
The Gospel. St. Matthew 21. 1.
At that time: When they drew nigh unto Jerusalem, and were come to Bethpage, unto the mount of Olives : then sent Jesus two disciples, saying unto them : Go into the village over against you, and straightway ye shall find an ass tied, and a colt with her : loose them and bring them unto me. And if any man say ought unto you, ye shall say : The Lord hath need of them ; and straightway he will send them. All this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Prophet, saying : Tell ye the daughter of Sion : Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass. And the disciples went, and did as Jesus commanded them, and brought the ass, and the colt, and put on them their clothes, and the set him thereon. And a very great multitude spread their garments in the way ; others cut down branches from the trees, and strawed them in the way. And the multitudes that went before, and that followed, cried, saying : Hosanna to the Son of David ; Blessed is he that cometh in the Name of the Lord ; Hosanna in the highest. And when he was come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved, saying : Who is this? And the multitudes said : This is Jesus the Prophet of Nazareth of Galilee. And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the money-changers, and the seats of them that sold doves, and said unto them : It is written : My house shall be a house of prayer ; but ye have made it a den of thieves.
Welcome to Advent. As I told you last week, we now enter into that penitential season during which we prepare for the birth of Our Lord at Christmas. Now I know that some of us actually began preparing for Christmas a long time ago. I even know of some people who got started the day after last Christmas when they hit the “post-holiday” sales and bought gifts for this year.
In any event, we can hardly be taken by surprise at the coming of Christmas. These days, retailers begin running advertisements and putting up Christmas displays before All Saints Day. They don’t even wait until after Thanksgiving anymore. Thanksgiving is just a signal to turn up the intensity on their advertising. The day after Thanksgiving is known as “Black Friday”, because of the huge rush of people vying for that special deal on the perfect gift (sadly, on occasion, violently so).
The secular world tries to tell us that the gifts we give will reflect our understanding of the meaning of Christmas. A couple of years ago, some retailers were betting that this understanding would be displayed in the purchase of furry ponchos, mink handbags, and fur-lined flip-flops.
Of the top ten “hot items” for Christmas gifts that year, not one, NOT ONE, had anything to do with God, Jesus, or Christianity at all. If you looked really hard, you might have been able to find a Christian book or a Christmas CD on some web sites, but by and large, you’d not find any reference to Jesus in any ad. There was even at one time a radio ad for a jeweler in Michigan whose tag line was “this year, it’s all about you”.
NO! IT’S REALLY NOT! You cannot find the true meeting of Christmas by buying a diamond ring at Jared’s. You cannot brighten your holiday at Home Depot. Christmas will not be any more special because you bought a mink handbag or fur-lined flip-flops. IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU!
These days, the closest most people get to the true meaning of the season is when they watch “A Charlie Brown Christmas” on TV. Instead of spending time praying and preparing for the birth of Our Savior, we instead waste time fighting crowds, looking for deals, and worrying about getting it all done in time. We Christians have allowed the secular world to take over Christmas, to change its meaning. Christmas is now about the worship of the almighty dollar, instead of the worship of Almighty God.
So, can we take it back? Well, of course we can. And you just know that I’ve got some ideas about how. I’m not talking about holding protests or boycotts. Even if we could mobilize the entire Original Province, I doubt the a few thousand Anglican Catholics would make much of a dent in sales at Walmart.
To give you a hint, the answer is in today’s Gospel; My house shall be a house of prayer. For obvious reasons, I’m a big proponent of the power of prayer. I know that some of you are as well. In this case, I’m not advocating using that power to destroy the secular powers that have come to dominate our world. Instead, we must use this power to turn hearts and minds so that they may find the true meaning of Christmas. And, of course, it has to start with us.
Particularly during a penitential season like Advent, we must bring about discipline in our lives. Our prayer life is a part of that discipline. How and where we focus our prayers brings meaning to that discipline. I would like to propose a process whereby you may attain that discipline, and effectively focus the power of your prayers.
Remember that our ultimate goal is to help build the Kingdom of God. So, during this first week of Advent, I ask that you begin to pray to God. More to the point, when you pray to God, thank Him for all that he has given you. Your House, your job or retirement, your family. Thank Him, and praise Him for his Grace, His Blessings. Pray to Him and just say, “thank you”, all this week.
Beginning next week, add to your prayers a request. Ask God that He use your prayers, your witness, your life, to help build His Kingdom. Ask for the opportunity to tell people about Jesus Christ; about his birth, his life, his passion, death and resurrection; his ascension into Heaven; and his ultimate coming again.
Starting with the third week, ask that God enter into the hearts and minds of those whom you cannot reach. Those friends and loved-ones who you haven’t seen in a while; strangers who you see on the street or in stores; ask that He speak to those in need and to those who have not yet come to know Him.
And in the fourth week, pray that the result of this Christmas season will be the glorification of God; that hundreds, thousands, millions more will come to know the love of God, the love of Jesus Christ, the true meaning of Christmas.
All of this culminates in our prayers on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. At that time, when you pray, add your JOY! The joy that comes from you gratitude for all that God has done; the joy that comes from the realization that His is the ultimate victory; the joy that comes from knowing that our prayers will be answered; joy at the birth of our Lord, our King, our Savior.
You will notice that there is something missing in all these prayers. IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU. It’s about God. It’s about His coming to earth in the Person of His Holy Incarnation. It’s about His Sacrificial act of Saving Grace. It’s about His coming again. It’s about His Kingdom and our guarantee of life everlasting in the presence of His Divine Love. And THAT’S the true meaning of Christmas.
Hosanna to the Son of David ; Blessed is he that cometh in the Name of the Lord ; Hosanna in the highest.
First Sunday in Advent