|The Nativity - Jesus, Mary and Joseph|
With the ushering in of the Advent Season on Sunday, December 1st you have probably already started to think about Christmas? Today, I would like you to consider adding to your thoughts, the growing trend to secularize the Advent and Christmas Seasons.
Many people will soon begin, if they have not already, to prepare for Christmas by shopping for Christmas gifts, putting up Christmas trees, exterior lights and other home decorations, organize parties, plan family visitations, book vacations and other things. Certainly all this is appropriate, but we must be careful not to let all these activities distract us from our proper and true focus, that is, our interior preparation for the coming of Christ.
Currently, we are in the Advent Season, not the Christmas Season. The Advent Season begins four weeks prior to Christmas day and ends on Christmas Eve. The Christmas Season does not officially begin until the first Vespers of Christmas Eve and extends to the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord, which is the Sunday after the Epiphany.
It seems though that Advent and the spirit of the season has been removed from the hearts of minds of many people. Instead of preparing to usher in Christmas in the true Christian sense, many have begun or will soon begin, to enter into the frenzy of Christmas shopping and embrace the secularized consumeristic character of Christmas. I am sure you have already been exposed to the retailers' promotions encouraging this frenzy? Do we really need to have all these Christmas products available at least one month before Christmas? Will not one to two weeks prior to the December 25th suffice? Consumerism is a significant distraction and in my view, constitutes one of the major attacks on the Christian spirit and meaning of both the Advent and Christmas seasons.
So what is Advent and what is it all about? Advent is the four week period before Christmas when the Church celebrates the first coming of Christ and anticipates His second coming. The word “advent” comes from the Latin adventus (Greek parousia), which means “coming” or “arrival.” Advent is not part of the Christmas season, but a preparation for it. This is why we do not sing Christmas hymns or use Christmas readings in Mass until December 25th, the first day of the Christmas season.
Advent provides us all with an opportunity to continually re-orient ourselves to God’s will as we, together with the entire Church, expectantly wait for the true meaning of Christmas, the incarnation of God the Son. The spirit of Advent should help to arouse in each one of us, an intimate and personal expectation of the renewed coming of Christ in our soul. This “coming” is accomplished through grace and the more it matures in us, the more copious it becomes, penetrating us until it transforms the soul into an alter Christus.
The question I pose to the visitors of my blog, do you think most people are focussing on the true meaning and spirit of the Advent Season? Of course, no one knows the complete answer to this, but we can get a strong sense from our observations and interactions with others. To help answer my question, consider taking a survey of who amongst your family members, friends, colleagues and coworkers, neighbours, those who you communicate and come into contact with, have encouraged you in any way to focus on the spiritual activities associated with the Advent and Christmas seasons. Has there been any mention as what you can do to prepare for Christ's coming in your soul? If the results of your survey yields an overwhelming "no," "no one" or "very few," then it probably is very typical. It is a symptom of the major problem of consumerism and secularism as a whole, which does not limit itself to the Advent and Christmas seasons.
A reoccurring secular pattern in the past several years, during the Advent and Christmas Seasons, has been the greeting of "Happy Holidays" as a replacement for the proper greeting of "Merry Christmas." I am sure that most of us have experienced it. It is sad that so many are willing to throw Christ out of Christmas with such a greeting. Whether they realize it or not, this is exactly what they do. In my view, the "Happy Holidays" greeting represents another major attack on the true meaning and spirit of the Advent and Christmas seasons. It only begs the question, what are we going to do about it?
As active and practicing Christians, we as Catholics have a responsibility to act upon the secularization of the Advent and Christmas Seasons. In the face of this growing secular trend here in our community in Woodbridge, we must meet that challenge and correct those that greet us without Christ. To do so, is proper to our call to "labour in the vineyard of the Lord," as noted in Pope John Paul II's document, Christifideles Laici, a Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation on the vocation and the mission of the lay faithful in the Church and the world:
...[L]ay people as well are personally called by the Lord, from whom they receive a mission on behalf of the Church and the world...Keep watch over your manner of life, dear people, and make sure that you are indeed the Lord's labourers. Each person should take into account what he does and consider if he is labouring in the vineyard of the Lord. (2)What are some of the possibilities for us to "labour in the vineyard?" In addition to the obvious of responding to someone's "Happy Holidays," with your "Merry Christmas," consider taking an extra 5-10 minutes to speak with the manager of a retail outlet, store or organization and inquiry as to why employees are throwing Christ out of Christmas with their "Happy Holiday" greetings to customers. You can simply argue that you are not only a customer, but a Catholic customer and you find it offensive and do not appreciate that company personnel in their communications with customers, exclude Christ from Christmas.
Consider "labouring for Christ in His vineyard" by being more attentive to the purchase of Christmas cards, ensuring that it is a true Christmas card with the greeting of, "Merry Christmas." Do not be fooled by what may appear to be a Christmas card. Some may look like Christmas cards, but contain very little Christmas content. Others may contain content that is most inappropriate for such a card. Examples might be with respect to improper humour, references that have nothing to do with Christ and content that draws one's heart and mind away from the true meaning of Christmas.
Consider "labouring in the vineyard" with regard to shopping decisions for Christmas presents. We all have Christmas shopping to do. Why not ensure that your dollars are spent at a store that actually has "Merry Christmas" on display. If a store has, "Happy Holidays," one way you can protest the secularization of Christmas is not to shop at that location. If you see calendars, posters and banners in stores that say, "Happy Holidays," why not speak to the manager and inquire about the rational for such displays? This is what you can do to put faith into action. (James 2:14-18) Let us not allow Edmund Burke's quote, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing," to become our community reality this year. Let us stem the tide of the secularism and help restore Christ in the hearts and minds in our community. Do not let those in our community who carelessly ignore the true meaning of Christmas get away with it. It is up to us to make a difference and put Christ back in Christmas.
As always, our communications should be respectful and maintain a calm and considerate tone, with an attitude of charity and mercy. This is especially important when we are the recipients of opposite treatment: hostility, anger, misunderstanding and a sharp rebuke. Our response must always be a Christian one. Above all, we must not judge those whose faith is less than our own or perhaps minimal, if anything at all. We must pray for them and show them by our example what Advent and Christmas is all about.
Christ will never be removed from the Advent and Christmas seasons, because many of us know, understanding and live the truth. It will never be a "Happy Season." It will always be the Advent and Christmas Seasons!