We have just heard John the Baptist challenge us to prepare our hearts to celebrate the birth of Christ. And in preparing to celebrate Our Lord’s birth we honour the one who suffered and died for us, the one who rose from the dead in order that we might experience just how much God loves us. Almighty God wants to share the fullness of his life with us. And so, we honour him by welcoming him into our hearts at Christmas.
John the Baptist challenged those Jews who presumed that the mere external practice of their religion assured them of a place in the kingdom of God. Now you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that external religion isn’t enough, just going through the external motions of being a Catholic won’t save us. Catholicism is a culture, it’s a way of life and if we are truly rooted in Christ, then our lives will bear the fruit of the kingdom and we will proudly wear the uniform of justice and fidelity. We will put into practice everything Our Lord asks of us.
Now, if there are places in our hearts and in our lives where the risen Christ doesn’t yet dwell, then Advent challenges us to give some evidence that we mean to reform and change our lives. I spoke last Sunday about the possibility of being arrested and charged with being a Christian: and whether there would be enough evidence to convict us. Advent is a great time to make a good confession and to prepare the way of the Lord in our lives by making the crooked path straight again.
Saint Paul encourages us to let God alone, who is the source of all patience and encouragement, to enable us to live in perfect harmony with one another according to the Spirit of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
And so, our community, our homes, our places of work, and our society should exhibit the peace and harmony of the Kingdom of God; call it if you will the New Eden. In the Old Eden, the serpent deceived Eve who subsequently shared the fruit of deceit with her husband Adam. In the new Eden, the child will lay his hand on the serpent’s lair without coming to harm. The prophet Isaiah envisions the lifestyle that Christ wants to share with us. It’s a lifestyle in which there is no harm or ruin. Have the failed attempts of our human communities to accomplish successful social reform deafened our ears to God’s cry for reform? Basic human rights continue to be abused all over the world for so many people, and do we think that God doesn’t care anymore about that? The nations of the west pander to corrupt, dictatorial and abusive regimes for economic considerations, while we turn a blind eye to those who suffer under these regimes. Just so long as we can make a profit. St. Paul reminds us that it is God and God alone who will enable us to live in peace and harmony with one another, but only when we are living in peace and harmony with Him. Advent is a time to centre ourselves in the mystery of Christ, so that we may be properly disposed to allow the mystery of Christmas to affect our everyday life. And of course, Christmas is not just for one day or for a week, but every day of every week and for every week of every year. And not just for ourselves, but for the wider world in which we live.
John the Baptist reminds us today that the gifts which are most appropriate for us to offer one another at Christmas are the gifts of the Holy Spirit first announced by Isaiah: gifts of wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, piety, knowledge and an awesome respect for the mystery of God.
The risen Christ wants to immerse us in his life; the life he shares with the Father and the Holy Spirit. John reminds us that without a fruitful relationship with the risen Christ, we can’t really celebrate the mystery of Christmas. We will simply go through the external motions while failing to express and manifest to the world the interior values associated with the season.
The fruits of the Holy Spirit, which are the effects of the Holy Spirit active in our lives, are listed by Saint Paul; they are: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
As you begin to wrap your Christmas gifts to each other, nurture the gifts and the fruits of the Holy Spirit in your own life and in the lives of those around you. In this way, we will build up the Kingdom of God and we will begin to change our lives, and our world, for the better.