Friday, December 18, 2009

Jesus or Santa?

HOMILY FOR THE FOURTH SUNDAY OF ADVENT, December 20, 2009:

Long ago, a wise and good king ruled in Persia. He loved his people and wanted to know how they lived – especially in their hardships. So he dressed himself in regular clothes and went to the homes of the poor. No one he visited suspected that he was, in reality, the king. One of them was a very poor man who lived in a cellar. The king spent time with him, talked with him, listened to him, ate his meager food with him and cheered him up before leaving. Later he visited the poor man again and disclosed his true identity. The king expected the man to ask for some gift or favor, but he didn’t. Instead he said in wonder, “You left your palace and your glory to visit me in this dark, dreary place. You ate the meager food I ate. You brought gladness to my heart! To others you may have given rich gifts. But to me you have given yourself!”

My brothers and sisters, in just a few days we will celebrate something very similar. Christmas celebrates that the King of kings left his divine glory and came to our dreary world to share with us our poverty, our struggles and challenges. Like our story, Jesus didn’t just come to give us a gift or a favor, He came and gave us Himself.

This has been the challenge of this entire Advent season, a challenge made ever more urgent as Advent comes to a close – who’s arrival are we preparing for? When we think about it, there’s a choice, and most people are preparing for the arrival of one of two people. Are we preparing for the arrival of Jesus? Or are we preparing for the arrival of Santa Claus? We’ve all seen the bumper stickers and pins that say, “Jesus is the Reason for the Season,” or “Keep Christ in Christmas.” We all know the challenge of the busyness of this time of year. I’m sure that the malls and the roads are crazy today. I’m sure that people are scurrying around picking up all of those last minute presents. And as much fun as all of that is, Advent reminds us that we are preparing for something so much bigger, so awesome, so much more monumental than presents and Santa Claus. So, who’s arrival are we preparing for?

We can learn something important by looking at some key differences between Jesus and Santa. What does each of them do? Tradition tells us that Santa Claus rides in an open sleigh giving gifts to children who have been good – so be good for goodness sake. Santa leaves the gifts under the Christmas tree, perhaps enjoys some cookies and milk and then disappears until next year.

Jesus, however, does something very different. Jesus does not leave a gift and disappear. Instead, Jesus is the gift. Jesus comes to live with us. He comes to share our human condition. His very presence is the gift. And, as the poor man in our story knows, being with the king is far more satisfying than receiving a gift from him. Most importantly, Jesus does not disappear not to be seen again for another year. Jesus gives us all of Himself and gives us His real presence in our lives for ever at each and every Eucharist. Talk about the gift that keeps on giving!

So, who’s arrival are you preparing for? Preparing for Santa is a very hurried preparation, one that involves lots of activity, lots of rushing around, lots of hustle and bustle. Preparing for Jesus is much more internal, much more prayerful, much more transformative. The King of kings wants to visit your household, wants to visit your life. Will you welcome Him? Will you have the time or the quiet space to welcome Him into your home and into your heart? How will you prepare for His arrival?

Today we are just like the poor man in our story. Like him, our hearts should be full of joy, not in the extra gift the king will give us but in the fact that the king has come to be with us, to become one of us. Let us prepare well so that we can exclaim with the poor man, “To others you may have given rich gifts. But to me you have given yourself!” Come, Lord Jesus.

May God give you peace.

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