First Advent: Santa and Calvin
The first two readings for this Sunday, from the prophet Jeremiah and from Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians, are very, very different from the Gospel, part of the apocalyptical section of the Gospel of Luke. Jeremiah ends his book of gloom and doom with today’s reading speaking about a time of God’s abundant love for his people. Thessalonians also speaks about love. But the Gospel is full of gloom and doom. How to put these together? Let’s use Santa and Calvin.
First Santa. Santa’s sled has followed the Macy’s Day Parade. The shopping season is in full blast. Actually, I think it started at the beginning of October, but for us traditionalists, it starts with Thanksgiving.
So, what are we looking for this Christmas? What are our hopes? Maybe the kids want a WII, fat chance. Maybe, the adults want a new Mercedes. Even less chance. Maybe you want to see the happy look on your pastor’s face when you buy him a new Jag. Right. Truthfully, you have already given me and continually give me much more and infinitely greater gifts than a luxury car. You continually share your love with me, and you let me experience your love for each other, and your love for God. That really means infinitely more to me than anything anyone could buy.
Brothers and sisters: May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we have for you, so as to strengthen your hearts, to be blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones. Amen. That is from Paul’s First Letter to the Christians in Thessalonica. 1 Thess 13.
What are we shopping for this Christmas? We can’t settle for shopping for stuff. We need to find new and even more wonderful ways to express our love for our family, our friends, for those throughout the world in need, and, ultimately, for our God. That is really what Advent is about, searching for gifts of love for our God, being Santas for each other.
St. Paul wrote that our love must continually grow so we can stand blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord.
That brings us to the quite frightening gospel with its warnings about being prepared for the end of time or at least, the end of our own personal time.
It also brings me to Calvin, Calvin as in the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes. Calvin, you might remember, is an eight year old with a stuffed tiger named Hobbes. Hobbes comes to life whenever Calvin is alone with him. Hobbes is his conscience as well as his secret friend. One of my favorite strips presented the bane of Calvin’s existence, the most disliked person in his life, his neighbor eight year old Suzie. Suzie was walking to the mailbox on a cold, snow-covered December day, obviously up North. In her hand she had her letter to Santa Claus. Out of the corner of her eye she sees Calvin, ready to hurl a big fat snowball right at her head. Now, for you born and bred Floridians, snow is fun, but snowballs to the head both hurt and are dangerous. “I see you, Calvin,” Suzie warns, “and you better not throw that snowball! I’m mailing my letter to Santa right now.”
“Is the envelope sealed?” Calvin shouts back.
“Yes, but I can always write a PS on the back of it.”
“Do you have a pen?”
“As a matter of fact, I do.”
Calvin then sadly drops the snowball as the triumphant Suzie walks away. “I bet she’s bluffing,” Calvin says to Hobbes, “but this isn’t the time of year to tempt fate.”
There is never a time a year to tempt fate.
That is what the Gospel for today is about. God gives us this lifetime to discover him and come to know him in the love of others and the goodness of this world. Every day of our lives is an Advent of hope, expectation and preparation. This is not a
time to tempt fate. It is a time to seek the ways of God in all things.
A day will come, sooner than we expect, when we must stand before the Son of Man, coming in power. There will be no turning back. No second chances. No retakes. When our lives are over, they will be over. Done. Finished. We won’t be given a second chance like on TV or in the movies to go back to earth to correct our mistakes. We will simply find ourselves standing before Jesus, face to face. It will be the Jesus whom we received so many times in the Eucharist. It will be the One to
whom we profess our belief every Sunday. We will stand before the One whose very name, Christ, we took on in baptism.
Maybe, contrary to our imaginations, Jesus won’t have a big record book in front of him, or scales of justice over his shoulder. Maybe, Jesus won’t say a whole lot. He knows us in the deepest recesses of our hearts. What is there that needs to be said? Will he be able to read in our hearts that we did our best. Will He see that we listened to Paul’s advice and have grown in love? If so, He will embrace us and welcome us into His eternal love. But , if He reads in our hearts that the basic attitude of our lives is that we’d rather not deal with Him and His demands, that our own selfishness domineered our lives, then He will see that just as we refused the fire of His Love in this world, we cannot bear the fire of His Love in the next.
So, the Gospel reading, instead of frightening us, encourages us to focus on that second reading and live in the Love of God.
Advent is a time to prepare. Maybe we should look at the things that busy us in December as an analogy. The frantic shopping and card writing, and cooking, are just an analogy of the determined effort we must have to prepare for the Lord. But the finish line is not December 25th. The finish line is the end of our lives or the end of the world, whichever comes first. We must be ready to stand before the Lord.
So, again, what is it that you, that I am looking for this Christmas? When it comes right down to it, whether we are shopping in the mall or dropping an annual note to a friend from years back, what we are looking for is ways to express our love of Jesus to others, ways to graciously experience and accept His Love from others, and, ultimately, ways to grow in the presence of God.
The greatest Christmas gift that we can give and receive, is the gift of the Presence of Christ. After all that is why we celebrate Christmas.