Monday, November 27, 2017

Advent ... why it matters.

Thanksgiving is behind us, and now we prepare for another great holiday – Christmas.  Decorations go up; presents are bought; it’s a hectic time.  Advent is a time set aside by the Church, to help us prepare for Christmas. Advent reminds us to add the dimension of faith, a spiritual dimension, to our Christmas preparations. So how do we do that?

Some friends of mine, long time victims of the stress of everyday activities, recommend sneaking spiritual moments into the world of work. A nurse friend says a prayer every time she washes her hands between patients to remind her that the person she is about to treat is more than their disease. That’s how she tries to stay awake to the spiritual dimension of the people she helps each day. One friend pauses in front of the Christmas tree in the lobby of his work and stops for a moment to say a little prayer. He notices he is more patient and respectful when he remembers to do this.

Why does it matter that we keep Christ in Christmas?  Because we have a hope in our hearts brought by the true meaning of Christmas that people desperately need us to share. So many people in the world have lost hope and we can bring a beacon of light into the darkness. 

A few year back a devastating earthquake killed 30,000 people in Armenia.  Minutes after the tragedy, a father ran to his son’s school building and found it completely collapsed. Remembering that his son’s classroom was in the rear corner of the building, he ran over to it and began digging, pulling away the rubble with his hands.

Other parents, weeping nearby, tried to stop him, saying, “It’s too late! They’re all dead! It’s too late!” Even the police tried to dissuade him. But he kept on digging. He dug for 36 hours without stopping. In the 38th hour he heard a voice, the father screamed, “Armand!” The boy shouted back, “Dad!” Then began an incredible conversation; the boy shouted up from the rubble: “Dad! There are 14 of us down here. I told them not to worry. I told them that you’d come.”

That story describes perfectly what Advent is all about. It’s a call to all of us who believe in Christ to be like Armand, to have a hopeful faith and help those around us not to worry. It’s about letting everyone around know it’s going to be alright. Jesus is coming to save us.

The world is full of people like the ones in this story.  Like the people and the police. When they saw the flattened building, they lost all hope immediately. We live in a time where so many people are hopeless. They have lost their faith if they ever had faith.  There are people like the grief-stricken parents standing around the collapsed school after the earthquake. They see our world in a state of moral and spiritual collapse. They see nothing but a mountain of crime, war, drugs, immorality, corruption, and disrespect for all forms of life.  So many people have given up and only stand around, lamenting the situation.

There are also people like the children trapped inside a world that feels like moral and spiritual rubble.  They feel like theirs is a helpless situation.  They see no light. The only thing that can give them hope is people like little Armand and his father – people of faith.  Hopefully, people like us. We are called to be people who like Armand’s father who see the same mountain of moral and spiritual collapse but refuse to give up. We are called to be like little Armand and have faith that Jesus is coming to save us. We are called to people who keep working at their faith until we bring light into the darkness.

Hopefully, this story is an invitation to us to do this, to become like Armand and his father, to be voices of hope in our world. It starts by keeping hope alive in our hearts by being like my nurse friend who says a prayer every time she washes her hands between patients keeping Christ in her heart; to put on Christ as she does her job.  Or like my friend who takes a moment to say a prayer before the workplace Christmas tree as he enters the building where he works, so he can keep the light of the Lord – the spirit of Christmas – in his heart all day long.  Advent is all about keeping hope alive and sharing our Christmas hope with others.  It’s about trusting that no matter how dark and hopeless things seem, we know Jesus comes to rescue us.

That is really what Advent and Christmas are all about!