Like most of you, I enjoy this time of year . . . receiving cards, the parties, the smells, the music, the lights. But actually, this season was not meant to be a “prepare for gift-giving” time, but rather this was meant to be a time of darkness. [Have ushers turn off all the lights].
Naturally, in our Northern Hemisphere the days are getting shorter and the nights are getting longer. And the season of Advent was to echo what is occurring in nature. That is, for us to go into some kind of inner work and look at our own darkness’s. The early Church leaders (or Church Fathers as we call them) intended this to be four weeks of fasting, giving and prayer. In a sense to clear away all the rubbish and ego that we usually deal with.
John the Baptist is a central character of the Advent readings. What I like about him is that he doesn’t pretend to be something that he is not. He wears simple clothes, eats what is available and doesn’t try to “make himself more important” than he is.
And I think, that when he hollers about people’s hypocrisies (like we heard from last Sunday’s gospel), he can do so, because he is aware of his own sins, failings and hypocrisies. It’s like he has gone through his own darkness so that he can point beyond himself.
I want to challenge you this week. Jesus said in the gospel of John 8:32, “The truth will set you free.” I know that is true for me, but let me add, “The truth will set you free, but first it will make you miserable.” You see, I think a lot of people don’t really “get Christmas” because they don’t really “get Advent.” That is, they don’t understand darkness. They want this time of year to ONLY be about fun, parties and gifts.
But, it was meant to be a time to enter darkness. And when things are completely dark some interesting things can happen. For example, in the dark you don’t have to pretend to be someone that you are not. You don’t have convince others that you are likable. In the dark, you don’t need to have every hair in place (no one can see), you don’t have to cover up that zit (again unnoticeable) you don’t even have produce that fake smile that you are so good. In the dark you can be authentic and real.
So think a bit . . .
What are you faking in your life right now?
What are you trying so desperately for no one to know about you?
What actions or thoughts are you not proud of?
What is the heaviest burden you carry right now?
Now here’s the good part. Your story doesn’t end in this darkness. Oh you can try. People can spend their entire lives convinced that they are no good, are failures and are doomed to be losers.
Or people can spend a great deal of time being resentful, stuck in hurt or just plain angry.
For years, I have felt resentful toward a certain family member in my life. And it wasn’t until just recently that it occurred to me, that perhaps this person has acted this way and treated me so badly because of his own wounds and his own inability to accept his own darkness.
What I need to do now is to forgive him. I plan to do that through my own prayer time and then with the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Because like I said, here comes the best part [I light a candle]. This 3rd Sunday of Advent is called Gaudete Sunday, meaning the Sunday of joy. That’s why one candle on your Advent wreath is a different color. It’s to represent that don’t stay in darkness . . . but to acknowledge Christ as our light (just like our parish name suggests).
We are invited to be like John the Baptist and prepare the way for the Lord. How do we prepare for it . . . by going into our dark areas, admitting our sins and letting the grace of God’s forgiveness be stronger than any doubt or fear.
The letter of James 5:16 says, “So confess your sins to one another, pray for one another and this will cure you.” Or as the 5th Step in the 12 Step Recovery Programs says, “Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.”
This takes humility and often times, lots of courage. I want you to finally enjoy the real meaning of Christmas . . . the meaning of Christ being your light. So this week go into your dark place and ponder what God wants for you. How does God want you to be, especially focused on those three questions.
Then come and join us on Wednesday evening for our Advent Reconciliation Service. It is at 6:30 pm at South. There will be a number of priests available and also two staff people for you to simply talk with.
You don’t have to keep pretending that you have it all together. None of us do. You can stop looking for evidence that you don’t belong, for you will always find some reason. But you do belong. Come into the light. Accept forgiveness.
Lord let your light, light of your face, shine on us.
Lord let your light, light of your face shine on us.
That we may be saved, that we may have life;
To find our way in the darkest night. Let your light shine on us.