The secularization of the Advent and Christmas seasons celebrates the “holidays” with full fury all the way up to the 25th of December. With all the gift buying, partying and anxious rush, we miss the true meaning of the Advent season, which was meant to be more austere, contemplative and penitential.
Even as a priest, I get caught up in the secularization of Christmas. I have to buy gifts, send cards, go to some parties as well as prepare spiritually. The Advent Wreath becomes for me the “Anxiety Wreath” as I see the time pass so quickly and my procrastination so self evident.
Yet, our procrastination, our hectic schedules and our failure to properly grasp the significance of this season due in large part to the successful secularization of our “Catholic Holyday” now reduced to the holiday season, may be the precise metaphor for our examination of conscience and confession of sins in the Sacrament of Penance during the season of Advent.
Anxiety, not about gift buying and not being ready in the secular sense, should be experienced in terms of our relationship to God, Church and one another. Am I right with God? Do I use His many gifts of Grace for conversion and true stewardship and discipleship? Do I repent of my sins and make a firm purpose of amendment? Do I go to Confession regularly especially when I am in a state of mortal sin? Am I ready to meet my Lord and Savior either at my particular judgment at the hour of my death or at the General Judgment when Christ will return in glory at the end of time?
The secularization of the “holiday season” is based upon rampant consumerism. Unfortunately many of us have become not disciples of the Lord, but consumers of religion. We want the Church to provide programs and services for us so that we will have options from which to pick and choose as we strive to “improve the quality of our lives.” This even extends to the moral teachings of the church. We become cafeteria Catholics picking and choosing what makes my life better and rejecting anything that is not delightful to the palate. Joel Osteen the talented charismatic preacher and his wife have packaged a very savvy, consumeristic form of Christianity based upon the power of positive thinking. It’s all about being nice, thinking positively and getting ahead in the world. Shiny white teeth and smiling faces form the façade of this religion. It is “don’t rock the boat” Christianity with the suffering and death of Christ absent, and sacrifice anathema. He is made for TV as is his worship services. But his form of Christianity is a bogus form that sells well to the consumer. It is cotton candy religion, all fluff but no real substance.
Only the two Gospels of Matthew and Luke present us with the “Infancy Narratives” concerning the incarnation and birth of Jesus Christ. Each has a particular “slant” with specific theological aspects. If we only had the Infancy Narratives of these gospels and no other information, we would have the Gospel of Christ in miniature. The angelic choir makes clear that Jesus is God and Man, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. The message to the shepherds makes clear that Jesus came for the outcast and rejected, for the sinner. The adoration of the Magi shows that conversion is for all people and Jesus’ message is universal. It makes clear that Jesus will suffer and eventually die, but by way of paradox, this will fulfill His mission to redeem the world from sin and death. The wood of the manger and the swaddling clothes anticipate the wood of the cross and the burial shroud. Jesus is placed into a “feeding throft” for animals, symbolizing the Risen Lord who will become the Eucharistic Food for the world at Holy Mass.
Several versions of the Ave Maria sung in Latin have become associated with seasonal Christmas music. We even hear it piped over the speakers in the hectic rush of department stores. This song and prayer captures the true significance of Christmas and our life as followers of Christ throughout the year: “Hail Mary, full of Grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst women and blessed is the Fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
I pray that this season will truly be a season of holy days, not just a holiday. Let us not be consumers of religion, but true stewards of God’s manifold gifts.