I’ve always had a hard time with Advent, as I have said before. Advent disappoints me and I fail at Advent. I make a tangle of all the strands of Advent: strange Old Testament prophecies, Christmas parties, O Antiphons, Christmas recitals, hard-to-stick-to-it Jesse Tree traditions, Christmas decorations, and preparation for the Second Coming.
So I went on a search to try to find an answer to my Advent dilemma … and I found four sentences that are already helping a great deal.
First sentence: You will die on December 25.
This is the very clear and obvious — but brilliant and mind-blowing — solution Father Mike Schmitz gives to the Advent problem. Maybe you’ve seen it before; here’s a reminder.
In his presentation “The True Meaning of Advent” Father Mike unites the two comings of Christ we are preparing for — the birth of Baby Jesus and the Advent of Jesus the Judge — by proposing an elegantly simple solution: “Imagine that this year on December 25, you’re going to die.”
How would you live the rest of Advent if that were the case? How would you pray? How would you repent? How would you serve the poor? He shares a beautiful story of a college student who heard this advice and reached out to a girl she had bullied in high school.
“I called her up and I said, ‘I know I was mean to you. I’m so sorry! I did it because I was jealous.’”
The woman knew exactly what she was talking about. “I was always so hurt,” she said. “I didn’t know why you were so mean to me when you were so nice to everyone else.” Then she thanked her and forgave her.
The student told Father Mike, “I’m just one move closer to being ready to see the Lord because I don’t have that anymore.”
Do that this December. And forgive those you need to forgive, while you’re at it.
Second: The revolution starts December 25.
Bishop Robert Barron’s take is also clarifying: “Advent really is a kind of preparation for a revolution,” he said.
He set the scene: After centuries of predictions of the coming Messiah, John the Baptist appeared, saying, “It’s happening now. The definitive victory of Yahweh is about to happen, so prepare a highway for our God.”
John Bergsma’s Jesus and the Dead Sea Scrollsadds fascinating details about this by describing the Essene community of quasi-monastic Jewish believers who took up camp near the Dead Sea to literally make a highway for the Messiah to come.
Bishop Barron suggests we take it literally, too. Jesus made it “luminously clear what he was saying. The kingdom of God is at hand. Don’t spiritualize it yet … Jesus is saying, ‘In me, in my own person, Yahweh is emerging definitively and victoriously. He has come now to rule the word. He supplants the kings of the world.’”
Think of what happened next: Jesus rose from the dead and launched a worldwide revolution of love and humility that plowed under the harsh, unforgiving ancient pagan cultures, making Christianized conceptions of good and bad normative in our day.
This year, Jesus wants that revolution to go deeper. Through us. Starting December 25. Get ready!
Third: Satan says “Don’t wait!” while God says “Be patient.”
The Church Father Tertullian (160-220) wrote a remarkable essay on patience, in which he argues that the sin of impatience is at the heart of the original sin.
Eve “would never have sinned at all, if she had honored the divine edict by maintaining her patience to the end,” he writes. “As God is the author of patience, so the devil is of impatience.” God does things slowly, methodically, glorying in being. Satan gets tired of waiting and wants to cut to the chase. Satan played on Eve’s impatience, suggesting she could become like a god now, not waiting for divinization God’s way.
Think of the sins impatience causes now: I want all life’s pleasures now. Forget hard work; I want rewards now. I demand honor and respect now.
Now apply those to Christmas. Advent, even more than Lent, is the season of patient waiting. God is not in a hurry. To get in step with him we need to do things his way. Slowly.
Fourth: Mary was even busier than you.
Jim Gaffigan joked about the birth of his fifth child: “Imagine you’re drowning, and someone hands you a baby.” That’s what happened to Mary and Joseph. They had too much to do already: a census to respond to, relatives to visit in Joseph’s hometown, a long caravan through risky roads, and an inn too full to accommodate them.
The baby came anyway, and nothing else mattered after that.
You also have too much to do, but the Baby Jesus is coming anyway. And nothing else will matter after that.