Sunday, December 5, 2010

Christmas: Real or Commercial?

The Scripture readings for this second Sunday of Advent present again to us - as they do every year at this time -  the most colorful character in the Advent story - John the Baptist.

Thanks to an idea I received from my good friend, Fr. Ed Deimeke, I chose to use a little imagination in my homily for this weekend.  I asked the congregration to pretend that we had a time machine that could transport someone from the distant past to the present.  Then I said we would transport John the Baptist to today and each one of them would be his guide to answer any questions he might have,

I decided to bring John into the center of Crossgates Mall (one of the largest malls in the Albany NY area) in the early morning of "Black Friday."  (For my readers in other countries, "Black Friday" in the US is the day after Thanksgiving Day and is the busiest shopping day of the year.)  I asked the congregation to picture John in the center of the mall as the doors swung open and shoppers began pouring (and running) into the mall to find their bargains.  I expect that there would be a bit of culture shock for both the shoppers and John.  They would see this scraggly looking individual shouting "Repent!  Prepare the way of the Lord!"  Would they flock to him (as the people did in the Gospel reading)?  I think rather they would create a wide berth around him.

And John would have questions.  He would ask what all the frenzy was with people rushing in and out of stores sometimes pushing other people aside.  He would ask what all the decorations were - trees lighted and covered with decorations.  His guide would tell him that we were preparing for Christmas.

"What's Christmas?" he would ask.  We would tell him that we celebrate the day when Jesus - our Lord and Savior - was born and that it is our custom to give gifts to each other on this day as a reminder of the great gift God has given to us in the birth of his only Son.  We also decorate our houses with lights and special trees because of the joy we feel at the coming of Christ.

Now these are good answers.  I'm not sure whether John could appreciate our response as he watched shoppers running and jostling through the mall.  There is, of course, nothing wrong with shopping at Christmas or decorating our homes.  We just need to remind ourselves of the real reason for which we do these things - in other words, to make sure that we celebrate a "real" and not "commercial" Christmas.

Why do we celebrate this feast each year?  Yes, it is because Jesus came to live and die for us and bring us salvation but he also came to do something - he came to build a kingdom of justice, love and peace.  This kingdom is reflected in this Sunday's first reading from Isaiah who presents a picture of a "peaceable kingdom" where the "wolf is the guest of the lamb,...the calf and the young lion browse together,...and the cow and the bear are friends."

We know, however, that we are a long way from realizing that peaceable kingdom.  We still have war and insurrection, violence and abuse, and the various "isms" that affect society - secularism, consumerism, racism, sexism, and homophobism.  All these things are present in our world but John the Baptist would tell us that it is our responsibility to build up that peaceable kingdom.  We might ask ourselves - how can I do this; I'm only one person?  We can begin by building up peace within our own homes and families - particularly when we reconcile with someone in our family from whom we have become estranged.  We can help build the kingdom by working toward the good of our church and community.  We can prepare for the celebration of Christ's coming by taking time during Advent for prayer and reflection on the Scriptures.  We can avail ourselves of the Sacrament of Reconciliation for those times when we have failed to build up the kingdom.

My hope and prayer for those who read this blog is that you would go out and help to build the kingdom, have a prayerful Advent and a "real" Christmas.


  1. Crossgates is the LAST place I would want to be on Black Friday because there's too many people, so if John the Baptist can force everyone to 'create a wide berth,' I'll stand right next to him! Good job, Dad, though you're still behind :-)

  2. Very thought provoking. I'm with Christine, I would assiduously avoid Crossgates on Black Friday. However, if John were there... Hmmm. I wrote about how I think of John as someone rank and a bit scary that you might see on the subway in NYC. That is how prophets are.

    Where was your homily delivered?