I was blessed to hear a wonderful homily at the Vigil Mass on Saturday evening, and wanted to share some of the priest's reflections on Advent with all of you. In all honesty, this was a homily that I wish I could have recorded - the priest did an amazing job of capturing the true meaning of Advent and of conveying to all of us the weight and importance of this liturgical season. One of the most helpful reminders to me was that Advent is not only a period of devout and joyful expectation as we prepare for Christmas which celebrates Christ's first coming, but that it is also a season which reminds us that we await Christ's second coming. The Church in her wisdom has devoted the Gospel passages for the first two Sundays of Advent to reminding us that Christ will come again in glory at the time of the Last Judgment, and that "upon the earth [there will be] distress of nations in perplexity" and "men fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world" (Luke 21: 25-26). Why will there be great distress and people fainting with fear? Because many will be surprised by and unprepared for Christ's coming.
And so we must ask ourselves, "Am I prepared to meet Christ when He comes again? Are the activities of my daily life preparing me for eternal life with my Creator, or are they merely self-serving and aimed at earthly success? Am I looking forward to heaven, or am I unduly attached to the things of this world?" As the Gospel of Luke reminds us, "...take heed to yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a snare" (Luke 21: 34).
During this season of Advent, we must soberly and seriously take the time to prepare our hearts for the joyful coming of Jesus at Christmas, and also for His coming at the end of time. In a culture that encourages spending the next few weeks rushing from store to store for the perfect gifts and from one holiday gathering to the next, we must make sure that our focus remains on preparing ourselves and our families for Christ our King. Many of us will invite guests into our homes for Christmas, and we will go to great lengths to tidy and decorate our homes so that they will be festive and welcoming. What are we doing to make sure that our hearts will be a welcoming place for Jesus when he comes?
The title of this post references tailgating, a fun activity that many people engage in during football season. While the football game may not begin until 1 p.m., football fans gather in the parking lot at 10 a.m. to eat, drink, and enjoy each other's company. Tailgates are great fun, but our priest commented that in his experience, many people overindulge in the pre-game festivities so that by the time half-time comes around, they are completely out of it. He warned us that we must not tailgate our way to Christmas. We must not overindulge in the pre-Christmas festivities so that by the time Christmas arrives, we're glad that it's all over! Again, Christmas parties, baking, and decorating are great in moderation, but if they become our focus rather than preparing ourselves for the great mystery that we are about to celebrate, we will have missed a great opportunity.
Next Sunday's Gospel reminds us of the words of the prophet Isaiah: "...Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God" (Luke 3: 4-6). Let us truly prepare our hearts and our homes for the coming of our Lord, that we may fully celebrate his Incarnation at Christmas and look with joyful anticipation towards the time that He will come again.
A few tools that we will be using in our home during Advent are a very simple Jesse Tree, a special family prayer, and an interactive and child-friendly Nativity Scene. We will learn Christmas carols but (much as I love them!) we will try not to overdo it so that we will still want to listen to them during the Christmas season. As we bake Christmas cookies and trim our tree, we will remind our children that the reason that we do all of these things is so that we can prepare our hearts and our home to to welcome Jesus. First and foremost, my husband and I will be praying for our own purity of heart and mind, that we may be truly leading our family towards eternal life in heaven.