04 December 2023


First Sunday of Advent

Fr. Philip Neri Powell OP
St. Albert the Great, Irving

Heavy English cavalry sweep downhill, lances dropped into killing position, charging the infantry line of Scottish rebels. When unarmored foot soldiers face a ton of horse-flesh and plate steel, the result is never in doubt. Unless you have the patience, courage, and determination of Wm Wallace, Braveheart. As the English pound closer and closer, Wallace starts screaming, “HOLD!” The tension is almost unbearable b/c we know that he has a line of hundreds of lances just waiting to be snatched up from the ground and staked into the English knights. The scene flashes back and forth btw the approaching wall of near-giant horses and the terrified Scotsmen. Each scene shift is punctuated by Wallace screaming HOLD! HOLD! HOLD! We know what happens next. But do we know why this is an Advent story? Advent is about watching, waiting, getting ready; it's about seeing the end of the charge toward Christmas but not reaching for Christmas too soon for fear of being overwhelmed. Advent is Wallace screaming HOLD! as Santa Claus, Mariah Carey, reindeer, snowmen, and elves charge our lines and tempt us to jump too soon into a season we are not prepared to celebrate. So, Jesus says, “Watch.”

Watch. For what? For whom? For the master of the house to return. OK. But we know he's arriving on the Nativity, Dec 25th. What's the point of watching then? Why not just abandon the walls, put out the watch fires, open the gates, and party til he gets here? We could do that. We often do exactly that. But what we miss in the meantime in a chance to get ready, a chance to prepare. To allow the anticipation to build up. The waiting isn't a punishment or a penance. It's like fasting before a blowout feast. If you feast everyday then Just One More Feast is nothing special. And the Lord's arrival is just another day. So, Advent is Christmas' Lent. The Time Before for self-denial, examen, the small excitements of knowing the day is coming but not quite here just yet. You could think of your life here on Earth as one long Advent season. Christ comes at Christmas as a Child. He comes again as the Just Judge at the end of the age. If you are reaching for Christmas during Advent, then are you reaching for the end of the age before you have fully lived your life? Surely, you have things yet to do. Preparations to make. Surely, you are not NOW ready to meet the Just Judge? If you answer no, then stare Santa Claus and his elves in the eye and scream HOLD!

Christmas in my family started around Dec 13th. That's when I got home from college to help mom buy gifts, put up decorations, and cook. Christmas ended Dec 26th. We spent the day de-Christmasing the house. Being generic Baptists, my family had no tradition of liturgical seasons. Holidays like Easter and Christmas were one day events like the 4th of July and Memorial Day. Nearly indistinguishable from civil celebrations and having no more religious content. It wasn't until I became an Episcopalian that holiday seasons became a thing for me, and I began to understand that the liturgical calendar was more than switching out vestment colors and whether or not we sang an alleluia. Liturgical seasons are a different way to keep track of time. They mark the passage of days by keeping us deeply embedded in the history of our salvation. When the Son became Man, he entered human history, subjected himself to the linear step-by-step process of moving through space marked by time. The historical events of our salvation happened “at the appointed time.” And so, we remember these events at the appointed time, using a calendar set outside the world's calendar.

We have about three weeks of prep time until we welcome the Christ Child. What do we do? We watch. We look for opportunities to get right with the Lord. We contemplate what it could mean for the Christ Child to also be the Just Judge. We find ways to relish the anticipation of Christmas w/o bringing Christmas into Advent. We pray for the Lord's coming again, and we also pray that we are ready to receive him. And when the temptation to bring Santa Claus and Mariah Carey and Frosty the Snowman and all the other worldly seasonal characters into our Advent, we stare them down, and we scream HOLD!

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