"There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on earth nations will be in dismay, perplexed by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.”Happy Holidays, everybody!
Hearing this to start Advent is enough to frighten even the “Grinchiest” of people. I think we could use some of those Christmas carols to brighten our mood. One of my favorites at this time of year is the classic, “Do You Hear What I Hear?” – it really doesn’t matter to me who sings it (although, anything sung by Carrie Underwood is fine by me!).
What I really love about it is the story that it tells: The night wind whispers to the little lamb; the lamb tells the shepherd boy; the boy reveals to the mighty king; and the king announces and proclaims to the people everywhere. This is the way the news of Jesus is passed into the world – quiet at first, then growing, and finally proclaimed openly.
But it starts with a whisper – a whisper that must be heard.
And this is where Jesus’ warning comes in today: “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars” – all silent witnesses to the power of God. Christ is calling us to awareness – to pay attention to signs that announce God’s presence, breaking into our world time and time again. But the very first thing we must do is listen.
“Do You Hear What I Hear?”
“Do you see what I see?”
“Do you know what I know?”
Jesus’ words today are not meant to terrorize us, but to heighten our awareness of God’s promises – because He is preparing to bring them to fulfillment for us. And this is what Advent is all about. Advent is not Lent – it is not about repentance but preparation for an expected Guest. Spending Advent well means listening to God’s voice in our lives, looking at His action in our world, and understanding the meaning of His gift of Jesus Christ to us.
First, listening requires a degree of silence. Silence breeds reflection and prayerfulness. This holiday season, PRAY – pray before you head out to face the demon crowds at Wal-Mart; pray as you sit in traffic; pray after you return to a peaceful home when a long day is over. Prayer helps us to be aware, and awareness allows us to look so that we may see.
Second, looking requires that awareness that listening to God allows. As we go about our days, it helps to look for places where God is breaking into our world. In this holiday season, we are offered many images; but all these are only so many empty images if they do not lead us to the deeper reality of the celebration of Christ’s coming. Look for opportunities to do God’s will around you, and seize those opportunities with joy and faith.
Finally, understanding Christmas and faith takes experience – and experience comes from living. Live your faith! We always look for ways to make Christmas “meaningful” – as if anything we do, say or create will add some new sense of purpose to this beautiful season. If, however, it is meaning that we are after, we cannot create that ourselves; it comes from God, who is the Author of this whole beautiful drama of the Word-made-Flesh. Turn first to Him, and I guarantee this season will be meaningful.
During Advent, we look at the coming of Christ in history – at His birth in Bethlehem; we are aware of His coming in mystery – in the gift of our relationships, and especially in the Eucharist; and we anticipate with joy His coming in glory – not to be feared, but to be welcomed.
Often, we get to Christmas and are happy to have simply survived. “Do you hear what I hear?” – not the clashing sounds of a noisy season, but the blessed voice of God, inviting us to prepare again to receive His greatest Gift. This year, rather than surviving Christmas, may we celebrate it!