Today, Catholic Christians celebrate the First Sunday of Advent, the beginning of a new church year.
This new church year is called Cycle A, a year when most of our gospel readings will come from the Gospel of Matthew.
Advent is called the season of “joyful expectation.” During the first two weeks of Advent, we focus on waiting for Christ at the end of time, and during the second two weeks of Advent, we focus on the coming of Jesus as the Christ Child. In both instances, we are called to keep our eyes on Christ and to practice the virtue of patience.
On this day, we hear St. Paul telling the disciples, “You know the time; it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep. For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed; the night is advanced, the day is at hand. Let us then throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in promiscuity and lust, not in rivalry and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh” (Romans 13: 11-14).
Before looking at this passage a little more closely, let’s look at the following story by Kathleen Dixon called “The Giving Trees.”
The story takes place in the season of Advent. Kathleen was a single parent of four children, and she was working in a minimum wage job. Though money was scarce, the family had a roof over their head, food on the table, and clothes on their backs. Only many years later did Kathleen learn that her children never knew they were poor. Rather, they just thought their mother was very cheap.
As Christmas approached, Kathleen knew that there was not a lot of money to spend on Christmas gifts. She determined, however, that the girls and her would have a merry Christmas with church and family, parties and friends, drives downtown to see the Christmas lights, special dinners, and decorating their home.
For the kids, the biggest thrill of Advent was going to the mall to buy Christmas gifts. For weeks before this adventure, they would talk and plan for this big day. They would ask each other what they wanted. Kathleen had managed to save $120 for Christmas presents on her meager salary.
When the big Christmas shopping day had finally arrived, Kathleen gave each of the four girls a twenty-dollar bill. She reminded them that should be looking for gifts that cost about four dollars each, and then to meet her at the “Santa’s workshop” display in two hours. Then, the kids scattered in different directions to shop.
On the way home, the kids were in high spirits, laughing and teasing each other with hints of what they had bought. The younger daughter, Ginger, however, was unusually quiet. Kathleen noticed that Ginger had only one small bag after her shopping spree. Kathleen could tell from its shape, that the only thing the bag contained was some candy bars. She was very angry, wondering what Ginger had done with that twenty-dollar bill.
Kathleen didn’t confront Ginger in the car. Rather, when the family got home, Kathleen called Ginger into her bedroom and asked what Ginger had done with the money she had received to buy gifts for the family.
Ginger reported that she had been wandering around the mall when she came upon a Salvation Army giving tree. As she read the tags on the tree, she came upon one for a little girl, four years old. The tag said the only thing the little girl wanted was a doll with clothes and a hairbrush. “So,” Ginger continued, “I took the tag off the tree and bought the doll and the hairbrush for her and took it to the Salvation Army booth. I only had enough money left to buy candy bars for us. But we have so much and she doesn’t have anything.”
After hearing her eight-year old daughter’s story, Kathleen never felt so rich as she did at that moment.
From the St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, and our story of today, we can learn many things. Here are just three.
First, we need to live a Christ-like life at all times, living as though everyone can see us. That is what St. Paul meant by putting on an “armor of light,” and that is what we saw in the story of Ginger’s generosity.
Second, as Paul says, do not be jealous of what others may have. Always remember that none of us can take even one physical item into the next life. What we can take is our souls, and the care of our spiritual lives is all that will matter in the long run.
And third, in our country, Advent is often an incredibly stressful time. Therefore, it is very important for each of us to take special care of ourselves during this season. On top of all the preparation for Christmas, we are bombarded with invitations to recitals, open houses, pageants, parties, lunches, and other things that drain our energy. It is fine to say, “No, but thank you for the invitation” if you are overwhelmed and need time for yourself. After all, taking care of self is one of the ways we show love of self, the third part of Jesus’ triple-love commandment.
As we continue our life journeys on this first week of the Church Year, it would be a good idea to reflect on this sacred season. What special things do we plan to do to make Advent a holy season?
And that is the good news I have for you on this First Sunday of Advent, 2016.
Story source: Kathleen Dixon, “The Giving Trees,” in Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen
(Eds.), Chicken Soup for the Soul: Christmas Cheer, CSS Publishing, 2008, pp. 63-64.