SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT (C)
What do you want for Christmas? That's what everyone asks this time of year, as we prepare for our holiday gift giving. But among all of our holiday preparations, are we preparing ourselves to receive the only gift that matters?And this is my prayer: that your love may increase ever more and more in knowledge and every kind of perception, to discern what is of value, so that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ... Phil 1:9-10
In today's Gospel reading we encounter the figure of John the Baptist, whose role as the last great prophet was to prepare the people of Israel to receive Christ. "Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The winding roads shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God" (Lk3:5-6).
Christ did not come to straighten out the hair pin curves on 107 between Cullowhee and Cashiers. When John the Baptist is talking about making winding roads straight and filling in the valleys, he is talking about the roads and valleys of the human soul. Are we prepared to receive Christ? John may have been speaking to first century Jews at the time, but the message is still pertinent to us today. Are we ready to receive Him?
I don't think the answer to that question can be a simple yes or no. Preparing the way of the Lord in our hearts is not a one-time event, some activity we can do and then have it over with. If we are not prepared, we need to get prepared. And if we feel we are prepared for Him, we still need to continue working on it, making sure we stay that way. It is an ongoing process.
I really like St. Paul's prayer in the second reading today, from his letter to the Philippians. His prayer is that they may be prepared for "the day of Christ," which is to say His Second Coming. He wants them to be pure and blameless when they meet Christ. And the path he maps out for them is to increase in love, which will lead to more knowledge and better perception. This love, knowledge, and perception will then allow them to "discern what is of value."
Discernment is a crucial aspect of our lives as Christians that often gets neglected. Do we actively try to discern what is of value in our daily lives? We participate in, and are influenced by so much each day. Just think about what you see on Facebook, Youtube, on Pinterest, your email, your favorite blogs, television, what you hear on the radio, from your friends, your family, your professors, magazines, billboards, newspapers, movies, the list goes on and on. Even beyond the media and the people in our lives, the general culture influences us. From campus to the coffee shop, to the mall and museums, everything around us potentially molds and shapes our perceptions and thoughts.
In the midst of all of this, we Christians have a great measure -- and that is Christ himself. We have our very Maker, God Incarnate, Emmanuel (God is with us), the one who proclaimed boldly not the have the truth but to BE the Truth. He is the way, the truth and the life. He says, "Be not afraid," and also, "Come, follow me." In Christ, and through His Church, we have a yard stick against which to measure every aspect of our lives. If we increase in love of Him, as St. Paul prays, our eyes will be open so that we may "discern what is of value" amid everything we see and hear.
This does not, as some might fear, mean rejecting everything in the world. It does mean, as Paul puts it in another letter, that we should "test everything; retain what is good" (1 Thes 5:21). Everything can and should be tested against the mind of God, expressed in Christ, through His Church. If it measures up, we should keep it. If it fails to pass the test, it should be rejected as false and unworthy.
This is true for small and large things. Every year around this season I hear some grumbling about "pagan" holiday traditions; things such as Christmas trees, wreathes, kissing under the mistletoe and yule logs are said to be of non-Christian pagan origins and therefore should not be endorsed. Even the date of Dec. 25 is criticized as being the date of the pagan Roman festival to the God Saturn, celebrating the "Birthday of the Unconquerable Sun." I say, so what? We do not know the precise day of the year on which Jesus was born. It is still an important enough occasion that we wish to celebrate it. If people were used to celebrating the birthday of the Unconquerable Sun on Dec. 25, let's test that and retain what is good. We retain the festival, the celebration, the joyful spirit; we reject the false Sun god and instead embrace the true Unconquerable Son, the Rising Star, Jesus Christ.
The instruction to test everything and discern what is of value is even more important in our personal lives. In choosing what it is we allow into our homes and into our minds, are we being discerning? Are we testing everything against Christ and his love? In choosing what we watch, what we read, the music we listen to; even the food we eat; even the friends we associate with; are we testing these things against what we know to be true in Christ?
Only be doing so, by making Christ our rule and measure, can we begin to prepare the way for Him in our hearts, making straight the winding paths of our soul, and filling in the valleys. The truly mystical thing about it all is that we need Christ in order to do this. In order to prepare ourselves to receive Him worthily, we need to let Him into our hearts right now, as we are. Christ is the end of the journey, but He is also the beginning. He is the Alpha and the Omega. He is the source and the summit. He is the true Christmas gift.