As I sat in the hospital waiting room the other day surrounded by fading tinsel and cheap but cheerful plastic Christmas trees, I bemoaned the fact, as many of us do, that the Christmas festivities seem to start earlier every year. Advent means nothing to most people; and it got me to thinking about what Advent means to me. The first thought that struck me is that Advent is something of a contradiction in terms. It’s a time of receiving and welcoming God into our hearts, but it’s also a time to give away what we have freely received from God.
It’s this pattern of divine exchange that we find in the two groups of people Our Lord addressed in today’s gospel. The first group received the gifts of his teaching and miracles. Our Lord saw their need and he had compassion on them.
But there was a second group: the people who knew him best and who had already received his Gos¬pel. To these, his closest friends, he gave the command: “Go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel”. He sent them out to proclaim the Good News and to do the work of the kingdom of heaven themselves.
Now, instead of trying to figure out which of these two groups we belong to, let’s accept that we really belong to both. On the one hand, we all need deeper healing. We all need to learn the Gospel message more clearly. We all have areas of sin that need to be addressed and forgiven. So we too need to spend time with Jesus, letting him minister to our needs and fill us with his grace.
But on the other hand, we all have much that we can offer to other people. How often during this time of year do we hear people talking about how lonely they are or how guilty they feel about some poor decisions they made? It is to these that we can offer whatever we have already received from God. More likely than not they need nothing more than a friendly word of encouragement, or a ready ear. But maybe they need to hear about how much God can work in their lives. We serve a generous God, so let us be generous in our service to those in need, beginning with our own community, our families and the people with whom we share our lives.