Charlie Brown’s angst of Christmas losing its meaning is old news. After all, we live in a culture where, if anything, Christmas means too much – there is no end to Christmas specials helping us understand the multitudinous pitches of “the true meaning of Christmas.”
Nevertheless, that isn’t where the problem lay. Blaming culture is a cop out. If I am disturbed, says an annoying quote from recovery circles, the problem is with me.
Current Advent readings draw me back to what is true and substantive. Unlike our Western propensity to see this dispensation solely as sparkle season, the Advent readings actually pull us to a place of sparseness looking ahead with expectation but examining our hearts to question: Is everything right?
Case in point is this morning’s reading highlighting John the Baptist in the deserted wilderness:
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near,” says John as the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”
Contemplative Christian spirituality is often seen in terms of attachments. We are surrounded in culture with the prolific voices that are not God clamoring for our attention. When these driving voices begin to take hold of our hearts enlarging beyond degree our attention on the trivial and the narrow, they become attachments. When these attachments become strong bonds, they are called addictions.
Here are the major attachments so says some very smart Christians:
- Wealth – My need to be secure.
- Honor – My need to be well thought of.
- Power – My need to be in control.
- Pleasure – My need to feel good.
None of these things are necessarily bad in and of itself – we all by necessity experience all of these to some degree. The problem comes when they become so enmeshed in my heart that I am completely given to the distraction and tangential and have completely lost sight of my call to love God with all my hearts, soul and strength and to love my neighbor as myself.
The American holiday season exacerbates the problem of attachments for me. The extra expenses draws me to be preoccupied with money and making sure everything is budgeted correctly (Wealth). In social gatherings, I want people to listen to me and think highly of my input (Honor). I have a large task list of items that need to be done and I want the ability to move people to action or out of my way so I can accomplish my goals (Power). In my weariness, I want these events to help me feel better, give me a thrill and help my tired soul feel human (Pleasure).
When these attachments don’t deliver the promised satisfaction, I find myself in a daze wondering when the whole, damn holiday season will be over with.
This is why John’s voice from the desert is such a clarifying voice: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” When did Advent stop becoming the quiet anticipation for the coming King who sets all things right? When did Advent suddenly become all about me and my responsibilities?
Bishop Robert Barron says, “Repentance means stop thinking about life as my project. Start thinking that my life is not about me. My life belongs to God and serves God’s purposes.
“All my diversions and attachments are subservient to the idea that my life is all about me; my life is a project of self-satisfaction.”
In the quiet desert morning where John’s exhortations are taken to heart, I look up with a new hope, I hear the distant promise, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light”. Advent tells me it is not about me. Advent tells me there is forward-looking hope that transcends the clutter and the chatter.
Bishop Robert Barron’s full sermon may be found here.