The Christmas Spirit
by Mai-Anh Le
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The Lord says, "I, the LORD, your God, teach you what is for your good, and lead you on the way you should go." (Isaiah 48:17).
The month of December has a way of putting many of us into a tiresome and stressful spinning frenzy every year. We occupy our minds with the continuing worries of holiday preparations that have no relevance to the true reason of the season; what shall I get for everyone this year? Did I send out all the necessary cards? Then of course there are the endless decorating details and the baking, and the dinner parties we’ll each attend and host … and the list just goes on and on. It’s amazing how quickly we can become misguided because we place so much stock into today’s retailers’ marketing reasons for “the season.” As if the successful carrying out of all these details would make or break our perfect Christmas. On the other hand, a year’s hardship and strife can just as quickly change our usual anticipating joy for the season to a dreaded melancholy state of indifference. Now, instead of being over zealous with the “appearance” of Christmas, we might find ourselves saying, “I don’t have much Christmas spirit this year.” How easily our attention shifts to the defining days of the passing year, again, as if whether we’re financially secure or if we’ve succeeded in all our set out ventures define what is considered as the “spirit of Christmas.” What does prepare us for the holy season then if not those defined by popular culture as the top 10 “must haves” in order to celebrate a joyful Christmas? The wellness of a true Christmas spirit lies in the readiness of a Christian heart. In the traditions of our faith each year the Church offers us a method and an opportunity which guarantees this spiritual readiness if we are sincere in our efforts to seek the spirit of the Christ Child, the one true Spirit of Christmas. This is known as the season of Advent.
In the Judeo-Christian tradition, Sunday begins at sundown of the day before when worshipers celebrate First Vespers. The celebration of Advent marks the beginning of our Christian Advent/Christmas cycle. Beginning on the first Sunday after November 30th each year, the season of Advent is celebrated over four weeks in December, where the Sunday fourth and final week marks our Christmas Eve. With the beginning of the Advent season, the Church begins a new liturgical year. Thus, this also makes the First Sunday of Advent the Church’s “New Years Day.”
The word “Advent” comes from a Latin word meaning “arrival” or “coming”. Thus, by definition the focus of the entire season is on two pivotal events of our faith: the First Advent is the celebration of Christ’s birth, when He was born into our world with true human flesh and blood. The Second Advent is the anticipation of our Lord’s return which is still to come. Highlighted by of these two important events in the cycle of history, Advent is far more than a simple spiritual remembrance that Christians have celebrated over 2000 years. The deeper meaning of Advent is that it is a holy season in which faithful, awaiting hearts around the world celebrates a fundamental truth about God; it is the revelation that through the birth of the Son, the Father also came into our human world whereby all creation of all times might be reconciled to God. That is a process in which we participate today and the consummation of which we anticipate for the future. As we go through the weeks of Advent several Scripture readings will show great emphasis on the second coming of the Lord. For unlike in the First Advent when the birth of Christ brought peace and hope for all mankind, the Second Advent will bring humanity their day of judgment.
Today, as we stand in the trough of the First and Second Advent we must realize the relevance, importance and urgency of where we are. And where we are, is in the present day when we are being given the time to seek God, to live for God, and to abandon all else in the world that will not lead us to His Kingdom. The Advents that we celebrate in our lives today define our spiritual journey between the First and Second Advents. Or, another way to see this is, the life that we live today is our personal journey to redemption. But if we desire to truly be redeemed for all our sins and give the sacrifice of our Jesus glory we must not only practice the way of Advent through the last four weeks of each year but we should practice it through all weeks of all our years. This is what it means to live today. What we do with our gift of life today and how we live in these days that define it will determine our reality with God tomorrow. When this tomorrow will come no man has a way to be sure. However, our focus should not be on the when of our Lord’s Day. It should instead be on the simple truth that the day is coming. Jesus, before rising up into heaven, assured us all of this fact when His apostles asked Him about the time of the coming for the Kingdom promises. Jesus said, "...It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power." (Acts 1:6-7).
There are many parables in the Bible which conveys well the spirit of Advent. One such parable is the story of the bridesmaids who are anxiously awaiting the coming of the Bridegroom (Matt 25:1-13). There is profound joy at the Bridegroom’s expected coming. And yet a warning of the need for preparation echoes through the parable. Will we be amongst the “bridesmaids” who has their lamp filled with oil and shinning bright ready to greet the Bridegroom? Or will we on that day still be unprepared, waiting for another tomorrow to come before we start our task? We can all be assured that on “The Lord’s Day” there will be no more tomorrow on this earth. Life will only continue into eternity if we follow Christ into His Father’s mansion. Therefore we need to ask ourselves now: In what state of our heart and soul shall we greet the Lord, and how do we desire for Him to receive us? Will that state be one of true peace in spirit and anxiousness for eternal peace in His Kingdom? Or will we like Adam and Eve feel nakedness of our sins and hide from God because we are embarrassed? And God, will He on that day say to us: “Why do you call Me "Lord, Lord,' and do not what I say? (Luke 6:46). "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter,” (Matthew 7:21) Or shall Jesus say, “[I] welcome you into my own home (in heaven), so that you may be where I am." (John 14:3).
As Christians we believe Jesus came into our world so that He can die for us and thus, ransom our spirit from the bondage of sins. But the security of salvation is not a guarantee to anyone, not even us Christians. In the eyes of God we are all of one family and from only One divine Father were we made. Thus, the people of today must take advantage of the present now that we’ve been given. The mandate to attain heaven is to live as Jesus said, by "God’s Golden Rules". The first rule is, to "love the Lord your God with all your heart," and the second is to "love your neighbor as yourself." It is on these two commandments that all of God’s other laws rest. (Mathew 22:37-40) As Christians we have declared ourselves as “followers of Christ” and with this declaration come the responsibility to be first in living and leading our brothers and sisters in Christ through example. This is what it means to live Christ-like, and though it is never too late with God to start answering to this moral responsibility, there is never a more opportune time as today. Scripture tells us anyone who obeys God the Son, is obeying God the Father and they shall be rewarded accordingly. This is what it means to live Christ-like, and though it is never too late with God to start answering to this moral responsibility, there is never a more opportune time as today.
Over 2000 years ago men came to Bethlehem to seek the Spirit of Christmas who is our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Today His Spirit is all around us every day of the year, but our human eyes can only see the Lord when our hearts are ready to receive Him. Jesus comes to us in grace. He speaks to us in our conscience; He is always present through our participation in The Mass; He enters our human soul in the Sacrament of Communion where He is present in body and blood through the mysteries of the Eucharistic feast. But we must remember that during His time on earth Jesus did not only keep company with the righteous of society. Instead many times it was the poor, the sick, and the outcasts that were graced with His presence. Thus, during this Advent may we prepare ourselves for the true Christmas Spirit by seeking for Him and His message where ever they are present, so that we can live as a people of God and for God today instead of tomorrow. Our hearts wait for You Lord, Emanuel, come! Oh come and ransom your children’s captive hearts of today. Amen
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