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What do you want for Christmas? No doubt you’ve been asked that question many times in recent weeks, and you have surely asked that question of your family and other loved ones. When I was a boy, I would ask my parents, “What do you want for Christmas?” and they would say, “Nothing … just peace of mind … SIGH …” At the time, I would be so frustrated with them, but, now that I am about the age they were when I was asking that question, I am starting to appreciate their honest answer.
Today I want to put before us another question: “What do you want for Advent?” That question, I am sure, is much more rare, and to most people, scarcely intelligible.
I do not doubt that as Advent approached, we asked ourselves what graces we would like to receive during Advent, and what special efforts we might make to observe the season of Advent. But don’t worry—I will neither ask for, nor offer declarations of how zealously or fruitfully any of us have lived the first three and a half weeks of Advent.
Now we are coming down to the wire. The Christmas season is just days away. So, I ask the question more urgently: “What do you want for Advent?” In other words, in the brief time of Advent that still remains, what would you like to receive from the Lord, and what would you like to offer Him?
To answer those questions, let’s take some guidance from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the pastor who heroically resisted the Nazis. Regarding Advent, Bonhoeffer wrote these words:
A prison cell, in which one waits, hopes—and is completely dependent on the fact that the door of freedom has to be opened from the outside—is not a bad picture of Advent.
Waiting for the door of freedom to be opened, waiting to be liberated from our captivity, from our limitations—those are very fine images of Advent. We are like Lazarus in the tomb, waiting to be called forth. But once the prison door is opened, once we have been called from death to life, when we find ourselves at the threshold, half in the dark and half in the light, what shall we do with our freedom? What shall we do with our undeserved second chance? How shall we who have been unexpectedly born again live our vocation as liberated and free?
I want to relate those questions, inspired by Bonhoeffer’s image of Advent, to my earlier question, namely, “What do you want for Advent?”
Surely, the wise want what they truly need, and we all need God’s grace to be good stewards of the salvation Christ has won for us. But we should want more, namely, a readiness to announce Christ to the world, as John the Baptist did.
So, as Advent draws to a close, we may ask, “What are we to do?”
First, we must turn to the Lord and cry out, we must clamor for our liberation, we must ask for the cells and tombs of our lives to be opened.
Second, we must obey the call to emerge from the darkness and live as free people made in the image and likeness of God—people redeemed at a terrible cost and consecrated for a greater glory.
Finally, we must prepare our children to be Godly men and women. We can begin to do so by honoring the saints of our past and present; we can do so by proclaiming Jesus Who is true God and true man; we can do so by insisting again and again that God is above all a great and loving Father.
Is all that wishful thinking? The scriptures tell us otherwise. Remember these words from the prophet Zephaniah: “Fear not … be not discouraged! The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a mighty savior…”
You see, God does not call us to an impossible task. God, our Lord and mighty savior, is with us, offering us all we need to live and die as we ought. Let us turn to Him and say “yes” to all that He offers us.
In the time before Christmas, let’s pray for three special blessings:
- Clarity—to see how blessed we are;
- Humility—to admit how we are;
- Generosity—to share with others what Christ has given us.
When I write next, I will offer a meditation on the Incarnation of Christ. Until then, let’s keep each other in prayer.