Some years ago I gave a conference on “Preparing for Christmas” that Franciscan Media was kind enough to publish in recorded form. In the original lectures I tried to invite people beyond a merely sentimental understanding of Christmas as “waiting for the baby Jesus” to an adult and social appreciation of the message of the Incarnation of God in Christ.
We Franciscans have always believed that the Incarnation was already the Redemption, because in Jesus’ birth, God was already saying that it was good to be human, and God was on our side.
At the original conference, I felt that the need on this earth for adult Christianity and the actual message of Jesus was so urgent that we could not allow this great feast of Christmas, and its preparation in Advent, to be watered down in any way. Decades later, I feel this is even more true.
Jesus identified his own message with what he called the coming of the “reign of God” or the “kingdom of God,” whereas we had often settled for the sweet coming of a baby who asked little of us in terms of surrender, encounter, mutuality or any studying of the Scriptures or the actual teaching of Jesus.
Sentimentality, defined as trumped-up emotions, can be an avoiding of and substitute for an actual relationship, as we see in our human relationships, too. We Catholics must admit that there is a constant temptation among us to avoid the lectionary and the Word of God for private and pious devotions that usually have little power to actually change us or call our ego assumptions into question.
The Word of God, however, confronts, converts and consoles us—in that order. The suffering, injustice, and devastation on this planet are too great now to settle for any infantile gospel or any infantile Jesus. Actually, that has always been true.
“Jesus is Lord!” of all creation! This was the rallying cry of the early church (Philippians 2:11; Acts 2:36; Romans 1:4, etc.). It is to this adult and cosmic Christ that we are saying, “Come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20), which are the final words of the Bible. This makes our entire lives, and the life of the church, one huge “advent.” My hope and prayer is that we can do the same. Remember, Advent is always—until the end of days.