We often complain about the commercialization of Christmas, and note with disgust how Christmas displays start taking over store floor space in mid-October. (I remember as a kid when they started going up before Thanksgiving – everyone complained then, too.) And I am in whole hearted agreement that corporate America’s concept of Christmas is, for the most part, sickening.
Some individuals of very strong faith take the issue to the other extreme. They put up no decorations until shortly before Christmas. Even until Christmas day. As a husband and father, I am not too keen on that approach, either, and not because I enjoy trees, tinsel, and exorbitant electric bills.
No, I like to decorate early – as early as the day after Thanksgiving – for spiritual reasons too. And this comes from how I view Christmas.
Christmas is, of course, the commemoration of the birth of Our Lord and Savior. It memorializes His first coming. But it is more than that. Read the Mass readings for the last few weeks. We have been reading from the Book of Revelations. We have been reading eschatological passages from Thessalonians and Matthew. We have been reading about His Second Coming.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops describes Advent as “a time of preparation that directs our hearts and minds to Christ’s second coming at the end of time and also to the anniversary of the Lord’s birth on Christmas.”
So we are not just memorializing, we are preparing. We are preparing for Christ to come again. And we WANT Him to come again – preferably without the earthquakes and antichrist. We are excited about the prospect. At least I am. If my beloved were to be gone for an extended trip, I would be prepared for her return long beforehand. The house would be ready, the welcome home signs hung, the balloons inflated days before she was scheduled to arrive. What more Christ?
The lights on my house represent the light of Christ’s love that I want, in my own little way, to shine on the world. The music and singing in my home are invitations sent up to Heaven, saying Maranatha! Come, Lord!
So I don’t feel bad about having my tree up, the lights blazing, the carols on the stereo. I don’t feel bad about feeling joyous all Advent long. It really is the most wonderful time of year! Christ is coming!
While praying the rosary recently, I found myself meditating on two somewhat ambiguous figures in the New Testament: Theophilos, and the Disciple Who Christ Loved.
Theophilos is the Christian to whom Luke addressed both his Gospel and the book of Acts. In Greek, Theophilos means “one who loves God”. While it is reasonable to imagine that this is a proper name of a real person, I prefer to think that Luke was addressing these books to ALL lovers of God, you and I included.
In John’s Gospel, John frequently refers to the disciple who Jesus loved. Everyone I have ever read says that this refers to John himself. It occurred to me, though, that perhaps John was also using a device. Are we all not also disciples whom Christ loves? Could John have been trying to bring us into the Gospel?
In Luke’s writings, he endeavors to teach us who Jesus is, from the Annunciation to the Ascension and beyond. As ones who love God, we want to learn details of the person we love. Luke helps us to do that.
John’s Gospel is different. It is full of imagery and emotion. There is no birth narrative, no geneology, but there are more personal descriptions. I would argue, and will go into detail in future posts, that John was trying to illustrate how much Christ loves us. If we are the disciples whom Christ loves, we want to know how He loves us.
Why is this important? If John meant us to identify with the disciple whom He loved, then we should take that into account when we read Chapter 19 Verses 10 and 11:
“When Jesus saw his mother 11 and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.”
So the question becomes, have we taken her into our homes?
We are exhorted to have the faith of a little child. What does that mean?
Some people, I think, use that as an excuse not to understand, not to study the faith and the Church’s teachings. But what is the faith of a child, really?
I am a father of four. My children love me and have a faith in me. They trust me in such a way that humbles me. How can I imitate that in my love for and faith in God?
1. They trust me. When I throw my child up in the air, he or she squeals in delight with the sure knowledge that I will catch him or her. When I kiss my son goodnight, he goes to sleep knowing I will be there in the morning. Do I trust God with my very life? Or do I always question Him and try to run my life according to my will?
2. They love me unconditionally. Sure there are the temper tantrums when I do not give them what they want – that is the childish part. But even those always end with them in my arms, enjoying just being with me. Do I love God unconditionally? Do I praise Him even when things don’t go my way? Or do I have fair weather faith? Do I pray more when things are good and abandon Him when things are bad?
3. They are happy to see me. When I get home from work they shriek with excitement and throw their arms around me. I am eager to see the Lord? Do I get excited about the Holy Eucharist? Am I reverent and joyful at Adoration? Or do I leave Mass early and complain when the homily goes over ten minutes?
4. They learn from me. My children are eager to learn from me. They want to know my past, my goals for the future, how I see the world, and how I live in it. They sit at my feet (usually figuratively) and learn from me. Am I eager to learn from the Lord? Do I study scripture? Do I read about the Saints? Do I read the Catechism? Do I pay attention at Mass? Or do I think that all that stuff is for priests and nuns and if I just go to Mass once a week I’ll be ok?
5. They are obedient. This is the most important show of love, to me. When my children are obedient, they are telling me that my word and my desires are more important to them than their own. That is humbling to me, especially as they grow older. It is an awesome responsibility. Do I show God that same obedience? Do I show it to His bride, the Holy Catholic Church? Or do I pick and choose which of His teachings to follow? In my arrogance do I think I know better than 2000 years of teachers, know better than the Lord Himself?
So a childlike faith is not a childish faith. A childish faith has no depth, no substance. It is arrogant. It is based on emotion and is easily led astray.
A childlike faith is trusting, it is full of unconditional love, it is joyful, it is eager to learn, and it is obedient.
Oh God, grant me the faith of a child.