All around signs of Christmas are sprouting up. Trees are being decorated and outdoor lighting is illuminating neighborhoods as the days grow shorter. Stores and the internet remind people that Christmas is coming soon. Christmas parties are already being celebrated a full month early and will continue as the countdown to December 25th draws near.
The frenetic pace which people willing endure is a sure sign that Christmas is just not an ordinary holiday. There is no holiday, civil or religious, which demands so much preparation as does Christmas. And yet, year after year, people willingly expend energy during December unlike any other month.
The rituals each family adopts are taken in part from their own personal experience of Christmas pasts and brought to the present. But unbeknownst to some, the traditions and ritual is based upon a desire of all humanity to be at peace. The trees, lights, presents and gatherings are only symbols of something much deeper in the human consciousness too often stymied by the shiny objects which adorn our life during this month. Christmas elicits our deepest wish, but is often displaced by all of the things we surround ourselves during the season.
The human longing gnawed at the ancients as well. The prophet Isaiah sees a kingdom where “Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; the calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them...” A fantasy to a chaotic world eight centuries before Christ, and an illusion to those two centuries after.
St. Paul is quick to remind us in the second reading, “Whatever was written previously was written for our instruction, that by endurance and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.” The encouragement and hope, in the end, all of those things that bring disharmony, all of those things that bring discord, will ultimately have no power over us. This was the longing of people in the ancient world, this is our longing.
The season of Advent has two distinct focuses: First, it is the preparation for the second coming of Jesus at the end of time. The other focus is remembering the birth of Jesus breaking into history. It seems that most of us are stuck in the later, putting all of our energies in the historical moment that has come and gone, without spending much time on the second coming of Jesus in glory. To place both of those focuses in dialogue with the other is what a Christian must do, and in doing so causes a tension. A tension suggesting the Kingdom of God is here but not yet. To place our attention only on the historical moment does not answer the question as to why are there still disharmony in the world, in our lives and in our relationships.
The Church asks us to be a faithful people who await the coming of Jesus in joyful anticipation and hope. We are not all that different from people in Isaiah’s time who waited in anticipation and hope for the coming of the Messiah. We all await that day when ravages of sin and death will no longer rule our lives; we await the time when the wolves in us will be tempered, and the leopard of our personality will welcome the kid. It is the unfolding of the kingdom in the world, it is the unfolding of the kingdom in our own personal lives.
For our part we need make ready the coming of Jesus right now, and as St. John reminds us. “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.” This means we are to have a change of heart. A heart that is willing to open itself up to the true longings of our existence. The longings that can only be satisfied by letting Christ come into our hearts. It includes the remembrance of the great day when God sent his only Son to live among us, to be one of us in all things but sin. But it also includes, the continued anticipation and hope of all good men and women when Christ will come in all his glory, inviting us to be members of that kingdom for all time.
When our deepest desire is satisfied, we will ascend God’s holy mountain where we shall see, “The wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; the calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them. The cow and the bear shall be neighbors, together their young shall rest; the lion shall eat hay like the ox. The baby shall play by the cobra’s den, and the child lay his hand on the adder’s lair. There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the LORD”.