First of all, my apologies for using "Xmas" in a Christian website, but the rudely abbreviated word perfectly describes the secularization of our sacred holy day. "Christmas" is the Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. "Xmas" is the commercialized secular shopping season that roughly begins in mid-October when the department stores start putting Santa and snowmen on the shelves alongside the jack-o-lanterns and witches.
Xmas doesn't let up. It is directly aimed at our pocketbooks and not at our hearts, despite the treacly sentimentality of cloying holiday songs and animated TV specials that push all the right emotional buttons. And don't get me started on the plethora of heavy-handed toy commercials that are cleverly designed to elicit pangs of consumerist desire in toddlers too young to understand why the nation's economy depends on a successful holiday shopping season. Black Friday, my rash!
Is it any wonder that Ebeneezer Scrooge was so grouchy at this time of year? If this is all Xmas is about — Bah! Humbug, indeed!
There is an antidote to the overbloat of Xmas. It's called Advent, surely the most underappreciated of the liturgical seasons. It has to compete with Xmas, after all. But that's precisely why I love Advent, which is so deliberately counter-cultural.
Had your fill of shopping malls, traffic stalls, and consumer frenzy? Come to church during Advent and be inspired by the prophet Isaiah and his poetic imagery. "They shall beat their swords into plowshares . . ." "The desert and the parched land will exult . . ." "The calf and the young lion will browse together, with a little child to guide them . . ."
Losing your sense of balance with all the holiday things-to-do? Come to Advent liturgy and heed John the Baptist's cry: "I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire . . ."
Are the dazzling Christmas lights of your neighborhood giving you headaches? Come to liturgy on Sunday and feast on the simplicity of the four candles of the Advent wreath.
Can't stand another chorus of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas?" Come to Mass during Advent and sing, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, a reassuring name that means "God is with us."
Searching for the true meaning behind Christmas? Hear the gospel on the 4th Sunday of Advent and appreciate how St. Joseph was struggling with the same question in the most personal way:
Behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said,
"Joseph, son of David,
do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.
For it is through the Holy Spirit
that this child has been conceived in her.
She will bear a son and you will name him Jesus,
because he will save his people from their sins."
So, let's not allow Xmas get to us this year. Come, celebrate Advent with your Christian community. Let us truly prepare the way of the Lord not by our shopping and our holiday stress, but simply by preparing our hearts.
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