Recently I read something I had written about Advent in an essay rather a while ago, and in it I pointed out that this holy season every year is a healthy kind of crisis. The Chinese character for “crisis” consists of two strokes: one stands for “danger” and the other “opportunity.” Advent is an opportunity to think deeply about Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell. If The Four Last Things are dangerous subjects, they also are an opportunity to be rescued from living life superficially. The tradition of preaching on these mysteries is especially important when silly worldliness distorts the world.
Without Advent, the only thing to do is to “rush” Christmas, with celebrations without much purpose. That turns Christmas inside out and can even make it depressing. Superficial Christmas is “joy without a cause” as G.K. Chesterton said in 1911 in his epic poem, The Ballad of the White Horse. He also said a couple of years earlier: “There is no more dangerous or disgusting habit than that of celebrating Christmas before it comes.”
Our Lord spoke of people who “loved the dark rather than the light” (John 3:19), and we see that today in those who would ban any mention of Christmas. The tendency to set up Christmas decorations before Christmas is at least a clumsy way of expressing a desire for light rather than dark, but it is futile without a moral awareness of what light and dark are.
Advent is awkward because its mysteries are not the sort of things entertainers dressed as elves sing about. While the Church calls attention to reality, avuncular clergymen often succumb to fantasy themselves, with Christmas parties in Advent and wreaths without reason. Of course, this is illogical, because it contradicts the way the Logos arranged the world. The Logos, or the Word, is Jesus himself, who uttered all things into being by saying, “Fiat” — “Let there be.” And the first thing he let there be was light: “Light from Light” as the Creed chants it. But the only way to recognize the illogic of Christmas without Advent is to “walk as children of light” (Ephesians 5:8).
The choice of darkness rather than light is a preference for the Prince of Darkness rather than Christ the Light. The best way to walk in the Light is to get rid of the darkness in the soul, and so Advent is a prime time for confessing sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Then the penitent is re-united with the Light of the World. Christ sheds light on Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell, giving moral cogency to the mystery of life itself. “He is before all things, and by him all things are held together” (Colossians 1:17). As the highest truths are very simple, the simplest logic is this: Without the Christ of Christmas, all things fall apart.
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Filed under: Fr. George W. Rutler |