“Christ is coming to us this Christmas, in the face of fresh opportunities and the lessons”
The yearly cycle of liturgical fasts and feasts reflects the Church’s witness to the life and mission of Christ. With the liturgical seasons in place, the Church recalls and relives the fundamental truths of our Christian faith. Thus, the liturgical calendar begins by preparing to celebrate Christ’s birth during Christmas, and is punctuated with the solemnity of his resurrection on Easter. Given the importance of these two feasts, Christians observe two seasons of preparation, the four weeks of Advent that lead to Christmas, and the five weeks of Lent prior to Easter.
Without Advent – or Lent – celebrating Christmas or Easter would be bereft of its deep spiritual and theological meaning. For example, similar to New Year’s Day, Advent signals the beginning of a new liturgical year, and thus provides an opportunity for a fresh start for our Christian life, faith and worship. This becomes particularly timely, as Christmas brings back to mind the start of our salvation history, and in a more personal manner, the very beginnings of our own life journey.
It is in this spirit that Advent prepares us not only to celebrate the yearly feast of Christ’s birth, but also for his coming at the end of time. The liturgical readings remind us to remain alert as we await his return – in the same way that the prophets of old such as Isaiah, Daniel and John the Baptist have foretold the Messiah’s coming.
Throughout history, Christians around the world have steadfastly held to the truth of the coming of the Messiah in Christ Jesus. We believe that Christ came two thousand years ago, and by his coming as man, restored our broken humanity. But what does that exactly mean to all of us? Has Christmas been reduced to one of those yearly holidays that we mindlessly observe year in and year out – or does it give us the chance to intently reflect on its significance in our spiritual lives?
More often than not, the rush and glitter of Christmas makes it easy for us to be distracted from the true meaning of Christmas. Many are too distracted with the year-end demands of the workplace, while others would be busy finalizing their holiday plans. Still some spend money on their last minute Christmas shopping, while others would work to squeeze in whatever limited time they have on attending Christmas parties. A few would take the chance to finalize travel plans for the Christmas holiday, while many more could only wish they had the money and resources to share a sumptuous Noche Buena meal.
But even the seeming distractions that seem to pervade the celebration of Christmas in our time has its own lesson to teach. In the nine days of the traditional Misa de Gallo, the Gospels share with us several characters that seem to deal with distractions in their own lives. Mary found herself astonished by an angel’s announcement that she would bear a child. Joseph faced the dilemma of quietly leaving Mary because of her pregnancy outside their marriage. Zechariah the priest lost his ability to speak, having been confounded by the fact that his wife, Elizabeth, was now pregnant in her old age.
Interestingly, it was in the distractions that they faced that Mary, Joseph, Zechariah and Elizabeth found God’s new purpose for their lives. They must have their own plans for their future, their own cares to worry about. Joseph and Mary must have been preparing not only for their wedding, but for their married life together. Zechariah and Elizabeth must have given up all hopes of having their own children, and they must have already contently accepted it as their fate. Imagine the confusion that they had when they realized that God was leading them towards another path. God did not wait for them to be certain or ready – God interrupted them and met them in their distraction, in the middle of their own cares and concerns and instead drew them into his will and purpose.
We may have our own everyday challenges, and at times we end up wondering what purpose has God stored for us. But this is one lesson of Advent that we must not miss: it is in the ordinariness of the lives that we lead, in those moments that we are distracted that God hopes to emerge in our lives, and to work for our good. The mystery of the incarnation implies that Christ has embraced our lowly human condition, and in the same manner, God takes our own imperfections – our own distractions – so that his love may be born anew within our hearts.
In this way, we realize that by welcoming God in the midst of our seeming distractions, we are invited to allow Christ into our lives, sometimes in ways that are far different than we would expect. While we may celebrate Christmas the same way year after year, the truth is every year we come face to face with different realities, moved by different insights or changed by varying circumstances – and every Advent season, God “interrupts” us in the middle of these distractions, so as to remind us that his concern for us is never diminished.
So, Christ is coming to us this Christmas, in the face of fresh opportunities and the lessons of the memories of how and who we are this year. Yet even with the shifting realities of time, the genuineness and hopefulness of God’s love made incarnate in Jesus – and the message of the Christmas story will be constant and always with us.