Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Nativity of our Lord (Mass at Midnight)

Titus 2:11-15 / Luke 2:1-14

Near the beginning of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, the miserly, cold-hearted, and damnable if not yet lost Ebenezer Scrooge is surpised, unpleasantly for him, by a visit from his nephew, Fred. While Scrooge provides his litany of complaint against the holiday, Fred persists in unassailable joy and goodwill. Finding himself confronted by Scrooge’s claim that Christmas has never done him, or any other man, any real good, Fred presents the following retort: 
“There are many things from which I might have derived good, by which I have not profited, I dare say,” returned the nephew, “Christmas among the rest. But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round  — apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to is can be apart from that — as a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.”
In his own way, Fred seems to have taken to heart in this defense of keeping Christmas something of the wisdom imparted by Paul to Titus. The appearance of the grace of God our Savior among men, which is to say, the appearance among men of God himself as man, Paul tells Titus, was precisely to teach us to reject impiety and worldly desires, and to live soberly, justly, and piously in this world, this time, this age.

It is here, though, that the Christmas message today seems to stumble. Good-intentioned men and women who reject the Gospel have come to insist that the heart of Christmas are precisely those things which Fred insists can be valued “apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin,” namely the kindness, forgivness, charity, and pleasantness, the solidarity with one’s fellow man, and especially with those in need. To these who live in unbelief, rejecting impiety and worldly desires, living soberly, justly, and piously can be held as having value even without being taught by the coming of the Savior. If they are correct, if we can keep what is best about Christmas without the Word made Flesh, then do we, the faithful, not confuse matters by insisting, again and again, that Jesus Christ not be neglected in this holy feast? Do we not insert a principle of division and discord precisely in proclaiming not merely peace on earth and good will toward men, but glory to God in the highest as well?

St Paul, in his letter to Titus, does not, however, merely give some laudable moral advice. He notes that the appearance of the grace of the Savior which teaches us how to live also directs our attention to the blessed hope, the coming of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. Even as Fred opines that abstracting the good cheer of Christmas might be a mental exercise only — “if anything can be apart from that” — Paul directs Titus from moralizing and ethics, however important they be, to the real hope and joy of Christmas. That is, Paul wants Titus, and wants us, to see that how we relate to our fellow men here and now, how we abound here and now with kindness, justice, and solidarity, especially for those most crushed by the hardships inflicted upon them by our own unchecked worldly desires, is precisely what will make us receive with boundless and unconquerable delight or with inconsolable and unremitting despair, the final culmination of all that is. Said differently, while there can be no final joy for any who remain unmoved by the plight of the poor in their midst, who prefer their own comfort in warm beds to the warmth of human kindness towards those least plausible to receive our love, neither can there be lasting happiness for those whose love extends only as far as the grave, which considers earthly loss final, and so accepts a limit to charity. It is the hope of unbounded and inexhaustible festival, evident already in the choirs of angels attending the birth of the Lord in a place fit for beasts and not men, that transforms our earthly kindness and solidarity into what it was meant to be in the first place.

This is why, without the Cross of Christ, and with that Cross the final and glorious coming of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, Christmas will seduce us again into impiety and worldly desires, either mere sentiment or cold moralizing. Faced by the seemingly insurmountable longings of the world, the only true and hopeful answer is to raise up, along with the tinsel, the holly, and the cheerful songs, the broken body of the Savior. This was the wisdom of Tiny Tim, who even in his broken body, or perhaps precisely because of it, saw that Christ alone can make good the promises and hopes we exchange so freely on this day. Tim hoped, his father relates, that “the people saw him in the church, because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember upon Christmas Day, who made lame beggars walk and blind men see.”

So, without any desire to take away in the least the true and laudable good that our brothers and sisters outside the faith have done and will do on this holy day, we insist like Fred to return every year and proclaim not merely good cheer and human solidarity, but the true Light that made bright that most holy night in Bethlehem. We do so that we, with them, might know better on earth the mysteries of that Light here on earth, in the hope that we, with them, might together take part in the joys that last forever.

God bless us every one!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Fifth Day of Sapientiatide

Song of Songs 2:8-14 / Luke 1:39-45

It is altogether natural, a basic and healthy part of human life, to be drawn to and inspired by excellence. It is right that we should be attracted to an impressive athlete, a beautiful singer, or a powerful orator. It is likewise right and proper for those who are drawn to the same person on account of his excellence to be drawn to one another in friendship, even in love, for one another: the mutual fans of a movie star, avid readers of a talented novelist, or the staff of a gifted politician. In their love for the one who excels, they are moved to love others with the same insight, the same passion.

We see something of this in the mystery of the Visitation, something of this kind of infectious love. Mary, after all, did not travel leisurely but rather in haste to the hill country to visit Elizabeth. John leaped with joy even while still in his mother's womb at the arrival of his Lord. Elizabeth, though older than Mary by far, was more than merely pleasantly surprised at her arrival. She was overjoyed and humbled in awe and love, that the mother of the Lord should come to her.

Now, while there is a natural love among those who mutually admire the same person, we do not normally imagine that the one who inspires our love from afar by his excellence actually cares about us. If we are sane and sound of mind, we grant that he might love us in a remote and general sort of way, the way a celebrity says she is grateful for her fans. Even so, unless we are unhinged, we do not imagine that she loves us personally.

Yet, with Jesus Christ, we find just the opposite. However intense and infectious our love and longing for him, all the more, and infinitely so, is his love and longing for us. It is Jesus Christ who leaps across the hills to greet us, Jesus Christ who peers through the lattices to catch even a glimpse of us. It is Jesus Christ who speaks sweetly as though it is not we who need to win his love, but rather that he, like a young and earnest love, so deeply needs to win ours.

This is the source of our Advent hope in the last days before we celebrate Christ's birth. We need not fear that we have not done enough this season to draw close to God when God is so desperate like a lover to draw close to us. When his love for us is so strong, so certain, we have no cause for fear or doubt. If our souls are still burdened in any way, we can be assured that the winter of sin is past, the rains of sorrow are over and gone. Hear, then, the voice of Jesus Christ: Arise, my beloved, my dove, my beautiful one, and come!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Fourth Day of Sapientiatide

Isaiah 7:10-14 / Luke 1:26-38

In A Charlie Brown Christmas Special, Sally asks her older brother Charlie Brown to help her write the letter she wants to send to Santa Claus. After some pleasantries asking after Santa's life and health, Sally gets to the heart of the matter:
I have been extra good this year, so I have a long list of presents that I want ... Please note the size and color of each item, and send as many as possible. If it seems too complicated, make it easy on yourself: just send money. How about tens and twenties?
Charlie Brown is understandably disgusted that even his little sister has succumbed to the materialism and commercialization of Christmas which so troubles his soul. After all, the year was 1965, and tens and twenties then would be worth more than fifties and hundreds in today's buying power!

Yet, more than that, we can see something more spiritually troubling in Sally's request for cash. In seeking money, Sally is refusing the joy of receiving a gift, something which, precisely as gift, lies in the power of the giver to determine, and not in herself. On the surface, Sally masks her request with an appearance of virtue. She claims merely to want to make it "easy" on Santa, less complicated. In fact, Sally, and most others who want cash for Christmas, have their desires rooted in fear, the feat of receiving what they do not expect. What looks like a humble motive to avoid trouble for the giver turns out truly to be an assertion of control on the part of the one who receives.

We see this same dynamic, but of greater import than a letter to Santa Claus, in the words of Ahaz. Like Sally, Ahaz hides behind a pretense of piety. He claims that his not asking a sign comes merely from the righteous motive not to put the Lord to the test. However, the truth of the matter is that Ahaz does not want to lose what he takes to be his control over the situation in Judah. To request a sign would mean to set aside one's own plans and projects and yield instead to God's priorities. Asking for a sign for the Lord means letting God's initiatives come first.

Grace, whether in the trivial form of a Christmas gift or in the most profound sense of the coming of Emmanuel, is always unsettling and decentering. A true gift is never the result of our own planning. It sets us, as it did the Blessed Virgin Mary, on a new and unlooked for course in life. More often than not, the coming of grace in this life, of God's gifts, sets more and deeper responsibility on the recipient while, at the same time, asking him to admit more and more that it is not he, but God, who is in charge.

As Christmas approaches, we must be aware of what we truly ask for when, in our prayers and song, we seek the grace, the gift of the Word made Flesh. Are we, in these last days before the celebration of Christ's Nativity, still clinging to our own projects and plans, or are we ready to take our stand with the Maid of Nazareth? Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Fourth Sunday of Advent

1 Corinthians 4:1-5 / Luke 3:1-6

On December 21, 1511, the fourth Sunday of Advent, Antonio de Montesinos, O.P., preached the following sermon to the colonists on Hispaniola:
I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness. In order to make your sins known to you I have mounted this pulpit, I who am the voice of Christ crying in the wilderness of this island; and therefore it behooves you to listen to me, not with indifference but with all your heart and senses; for this voice will be the strangest, the harshest and hardest, the most terrifying that you ever heard or expected to hear….
This voice declares that you are in mortal sin, and live and die therein by reason of the cruelty and tyranny that you practice on these innocent people. Tell me, by what right or justice do you hold these Indians in such cruel and horrible slavery? By what right do you wage such detestable wars on these people who lived mildly and peacefully in their own lands, where you have consumed infinite numbers of them with unheard of murders and desolations? Why do you so greatly oppress and fatigue them, not giving them enough to eat or caring for them when they fall ill from excessive labors, so that they die or rather are slain by you, so that you may extract and acquire gold every day? And what care do you take that they receive religious instruction and come to know their God and creator, or that they be baptized, hear mass, or observe holidays and Sundays? Are they not men? Do they not have rational souls? Are you not bound to love them as you love yourselves? How can you lie in such profound and lethargic slumber? Be sure that in your present state you can no more be saved than the Moors or Turks who do not have and do not want the faith of Jesus Christ.
 We find ourselves today no less haunted by these words than we were five hundred years ago. Can we say, without dishonesty, that our comfort, our way of life, is not grounded on the drudgery of others, whose toil and labor make morally and physically, if not theoretically, impossible the living out of the life of the Gospel? When we demand the convenience of shopping at any hour we desire, when we seek out low-cost, high-volume goods for ourselves, when we demand an economy that guards the right of every citizen to have access to WiFi and imported, niche blends of tea, do we even think of the men, women, and children compelled to spend their lives and lose their souls for our dreams of a fair and equitable balance of resources and opportunity? Are they not men, those who work for our comfort? Do they not have rational souls? Are we not bound to love them as we love ourselves?

If the words of Montesinos leave us ill at ease, those of the prophet Isaiah, the heart of the preaching of John the Baptist, should strike us to the core: every valley shall be filled: and every mountain and hill shall be brought low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways plain: and all flesh shall see the salvation of our God. Do we imagine, congratulating ourselves for being among the ninety-nine per cent, that, not being mountains, we can remain comfortably lofty hills at the coming of the Lord? From what other place but the leisure and plenty we enjoy to our detriment will come the earth to fill in the valleys of the slaves who work across the globe to maintain the lifestyle we demand?

There is, of course, hope. We are perhaps not so bad as we might worry. Or, we might on the other hand be precisely the crooked that shall be made straight, the rough way to be made plain. One or the other, our task is not now to parcel out guilt, not to point fingers and congratulate ourselves for being on the side of right while others, the wicked few, we can safely condemn without fear of hypocrisy. As Paul reminds us: I am not conscious to myself of anything: yet I am not hereby justified, but He that judgeth me is the Lord. Therefore, and here is the key, judge not before the time, until the Lord come.

In these last days before we celebrate the birth of Christ, we would do well to set our lives aright, as we can and as we know how. The raining down of the Just and the budding forth of the Savior we know is a work of God's and not our own. We may be ministers of Christ and the dispensers of the mysteries of God, but we do not orchestrate the hidden counsels of the Almighty. What we can do is seek forgiveness. What we can do is stop, here and now, in doing what we know takes advantage of those who have neither the time, nor the money, nor even the heart to celebrate Jesus Christ as Lord and King.

Come, O Lord, and tarry not: forgive the sins of Thy people!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Monday of the Third Week of Advent

Numbers 24:2-7, 15-17 / Matthew 21:23-27

The same dynamic we heard yesterday, the refusing of what seem on the face of it perfectly legitimate and reasonable questions, is echoed in the Gospel we hear today. Yesterday, it was John the Baptist's less than helpful initial responses to the priests and Levites sent from Jerusalem. Today, it is Jesus himself who refuses to answer the questions posed by the chief priests and the elders. What they ask is to know his authority, by what authority he claims to act and speak as he does. Why does he not simply answer their question? Why does he respond, if it is not too impertinent to say, with such petulance? "I'll answer your question if you answer mine first," hardly seems a perfectly mature retort.

Yet, while on the face of it the chief priests and elders ask a legitimate and reasonable question, the fact is, and Jesus clearly knows this, the chief priests and elders are not at all interested in the truth. They do not ask out of wonder, of hope, or of longing to know. For them, truth is merely an instrument, an object to be used to come to other ends altogether unrelated to the truth itself. We see this in the argument they have among themselves. In figuring out how to respond to Jesus' question about the origin, of heaven or of men, of the Baptist's ministry, not one of them stops to wonder what the true answer to this question might be. Indeed, they are not even interested in figuring out what they think the answer to be. Rather, they calculate, they instrumentalize, figuring out what answer will give which outcome, and how best to balance out foreseen gains and losses.

The chief priests and elders of Israel have ironically become like the false prophet Balaam. Balaam was a prophet of a sort, but rather than speaking so as to draw people closer to God and turn away from their sins, he wanted to use prophecy as a tool for gain, selling a prophetic curse in the name of the Most High to the highest bidder. When God chose instead to fill Balaam's mouth with blessings for Israel and a true prophecy of Israel's hope, the truth did Balaam no good. Likewise, even had the chief priests and elders received from Jesus the truth about his authority, they could not, remaining as they were, have benefited from the truth even in the least.

In Jesus Christ, it is revealed to us that the truth is not a commodity or a weapon, not a means to winning arguments or putting people in their place, nor some kind of indifferent object able to serve whatever ends we seem. Rather, the truth is grounded in love, grounded in the communion of Persons that is the Holy Trinity. May this Advent open our hearts to receive God's truth, wherever we may hear it, not to serve our ends, but rather to welcome it joyfully as a gift from him who is Truth itself, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Third Sunday of Advent

Philippians 4:4-7 / John 1:19-28

There is a kind of prima facie cheekiness to John the Baptist's responses to the questions posed by the priests and Levites sent by the Jews of Jerusalem. Asked Who art thou?, the Baptist gives no positive answer at all, but only a denial: I am not the Christ. The priests and Levites did not ask him who he was not, but who he was, and so on the face of it we might well think John to be non-responsive at best, more likely knowingly evasive. Yet, perfectly aware of this first question, his answer to the second volley — What then? Art thou Elias? — as well as the third — Art thou the prophet? — receive mere negations — I am not and No — without any further clarification.

Of course, this slippery quality on the part of the otherwise direct and forthright John the Baptist merely echoes what seems to many the troubling silence or evasiveness of God himself. Why, many wonder, does Jesus Christ, who promised that the Father would give us whatever we asked in his name, seem to do so, if he does at all, in ways so often difficult to see? Why are not challenges to the existence of God and the manifest truth of his revelation in Jesus Christ and the sending of the Holy Spirit not met with answers more direct, more undeniable? Why do so many feel that the responses from God find a character more like those of John's, mere negations without any further clarification?

Yet, on another reading, we can see that there is something quite different going on in the responses of the Baptist, something which might open our ears more readily to hear what God himself is trying to say to us. On their first asking, while the priests and Levites appear to ask a simple and open-ended question, in fact we know that they have been sent from Jerusalem for a specific purpose. They do not wonder who this man is; they are certain who he is not and seek to know what he has to say for himself. So, when they ask the innocent-seeming question Who art thou?, John knows their purpose, and answers the limited and restricted question they really meant to ask, namely I am not the Christ.

So, now the Baptist shows that he and the priests and Levites are in agreement: the Baptist is not the Messiah. Yet, these learned men of Jerusalem are still self-deceived about their own purpose. Rather than getting to the point, they start ruling out other possibilities — Elijah and the Prophet — not because they actually think him to be such, but again to see how the Baptist might respond. Their questions, in other words, reveal their closed-mindedness. While now no longer feigning open-ended curiosity as they did at first, they nonetheless look only to clarify and confirm what they already claimed to know. In such a state, the only answers they can receive are the confirmatory negatives — I am not and No.

Led by frustration, something amazing happens. No longer able to get a suitable answer by avoiding their real intentions, the priests and Levites disclose their intentions fully: Who art thou, that we may give an answer unto them that sent us? Now, finally, they reveal to themselves, to the Baptist, and to all present, that they do not come in innocent curiosity or in hopeful wonder. They come as sent and with a mission to provide an answer. Their question is not their own, and this largely because they imagine to know the answer already. Even so, it is from this transparency, this willingness to admit the motivations which being them before him that provides them with the question they meant to ask all along, not Who art thou? but rather What sayest thou of thyself?

Now that the priests and Levites have disclosed to themselves their own real motives and their true question, they are also in a position to hear the full disclosure of the Baptist: I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness: Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the Prophet Isaias. Even if his audience is not disposed to accept his word as true, it is only on the condition that they ask what they mean to ask, that they own and profess by what motivation they seek him out, that John the Baptist can give anything more than negation or denial.

This suggests to us something of our own relationship with Jesus Christ. We might often complain that what we ask for we do not receive, and what we seek we do not find. We worry that in response to our pleading and our questioning, there is only the unnerving negation of the divine silence. However, do we, in our questioning, place before God our whole selves? Do we admit the motivations that bring us to ask for what we desire? Indeed, do we even name our desires without concealing anything? In the end, when we ask an answer from God, are we even asking the question we truly want to ask?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

St Nicholas, Bishop and Confessor/Tuesday of the Second Week of Advent

Isaiah 40:1-11 / Matthew 18:12-14

Although his popularity is not what it once was, St Nicholas the Wonderworker is still celebrated today across the world. The hallmark of this observance in much of the world is the delight of children, finding treats left by this generous saint in their shoes or stockings. The hallmark as well of his legends is the championing of children and of the poor. Best known, of course, is the legend in which Nicholas came to the aid of three young women, saving them from poverty by dropping, anonymously, three bags of gold into their window or chimney, which bags, in later versions, fell into stockings the girls had had hung up to dry. In another legend, less well known today, the wonderworking saint raised to life and made whole three young boys who had been slain, dismembered, and pickled by a wicked innkeeper.

It might be tempting to dismiss these latter stories as so much fancy, but the sad and tragic fact is that brutal, even demonic exploitation of poor women and children was all too real in Nicholas' day, and indeed it is all too real today. It has been estimated that some seven hundred thousand to two million people are trafficked every year across international borders for prostitution and what amounts to slave labor in gravely dehumanizing contexts. Some one million children every year are forced to enter into the sex trade. What is more, this is not an isolated phenomenon. It is believed that nearly every country in the world is marred by the wicked practice of human trafficking.

So, when Jesus tells us that it is not the will of your heavenly Father that one of these little ones be lost, we cannot afford to sentimentalize. This is not merely a sweetly pious thought. Rather it is a call to action, a summons to be a champion of the poor, the exploited, and especially of children, as was St Nicholas. After all, the girls in the famous legend were threatened not merely with poverty, but in the absence of a dowry, we at risk to being sold into prostitution. The boys of the other legend were, like far too many children, lured in by false promises of food and care when they were themselves poor and hungry in a time of famine.

We, however, might feel helpless in the face of this kind of evil, ill equipped for combatting such darkness. Yet, the truth is that we are well endowed to respond. First of all we have our knowledge that the evil exists, and the power to make it known to others. Second, we have the consecration of our lives to God, some by formal vows, all of us by our being conformed to Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit in Baptism. Most of all, we have the inexhaustible pleading of our Savior in the Eucharist, available to us in the celebration of the Mass, in the reception of Holy Communion, and in our fervent prayer before the Blessed Sacrament.

In the face of this evil, then, we have no need to fear. With confidence in the saving power of Jesus Christ, let us seek out those who are lost, that God may gather them in his arms, carry them in his bosom, and lead them with care.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Monday of the Second Week of Advent

Isaiah 35:1-10 / Luke 5:17-26

How incredible do we find the forgiveness of sins? How marvelous does it appear to us when someone receives pardon from God Most High? While we might like to protest that it is the greatest thing, beyond anything in the created order, beyond the healing of any physical malady, I suspect that, if we were honest, such would not be the case for most of us. Consider, for example, the last time a dear friend was assisted by a physician. For all of our medical advanced, even the simplest and most routine of procedures is, when successful, likely to produce a flood of manifest and unmistakable thanks for the doctors, the nurses, even the janitorial staff.

But what is our reaction when someone's sins are forgiven? We are, I suspect, more likely to find other things more compelling. We might be impressed by the courage that brought a long-time and hardened sinner to the confessional. We might be moved by the successful living out of a new life once forgiveness has been received. But, how amazing do we find the forgiveness itself?

In the vision of Isaiah the Church puts before us today, we are shown what forgiveness ought to look like. It is a bursting forth of life from what was sterile and dead. It is the making whole of what seemed forever broken or lost. It is the transformation of what had been dark and perilous in our lives into a safe and secure pathway to make the journey of our life to God, at the end of which we will be crowned with everlasting joy.

In our Advent waiting, as we learn to be more and more aware of how we have become lifeless or lost our way, we cannot afford to be unmoved by forgiveness. Through the Church, Jesus offers us the sacrament of Reconciliation, so that those whom the Lord has ransomed can enter the heavenly Zion singing with gladness and joy. In the joyful vision of Isaiah, will we return to the forgiveness offered freely and abundantly in Jesus Christ, and to the astonishment of the whole world, pick the the stretchers of our sins and failings, and go home to God?

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Second Sunday of Advent

Romans 15:4-13 / Matthew 11:2-10

Wherefore receive one another, as Christ also hath received you unto the honor of God.

As the days grow shorter and the nights become a little colder, as we now see in full bloom the decorations that adorn our streets and the windows of stores, as our preparation begins in earnest for celebrating the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ, we are likely to find ourselves either asking, or being asked, to receive someone for the holidays. The request might very well be happily received: the chance to make new friends or exercise the virtue of hospitality in a way few other seasons allow. The request may also be resented. We might find the thought of strangers sharing our homes on Christmas to be more an imposition than anything else, and if we are the invited party, we may well discover our joy is tempered by anxieties that our presence is more a burden than a gift. Of course, most of the time we find a way both to receive and to be received for the holidays. With some regrettable exceptions, we find a way in the warmth of Christmas to look past the faults and quirks of our guests, to let go of fears that we are interrupting the holidays of our hosts, and to receive one another gladly.

What do we do, however, outside of that special season of gift and of light. How readily do we, in this busier time that we fill with so many appointments, too many tasks to finish before Christmas Eve, find it easy to listen to our brother's troubles yet one more time, visit our ailing parents whose aches and pains make every visit another cause for stress and grief, see the woman begging outside the Church as something other than a nuisance? The truth of the matter is that these persons, deprived of the mesmerizing glow of tinsel and starlight, are not easy to receive, and the even grimmer truth is that we are no easier to embrace. In fact, it is when we need most to be taken in by love that we are least loveable. It is in our brokenness, our rebellion, our injured pride and jealousy, uncontrolled in our appetites, demanding special consideration while refusing to grant clemency for the slightest fault — this is when we above all times need to receive one other, to take in and be taken in by Love unconquerable.

These are the very selves whom Christ received in his most merciful coming, and received not grudgingly, with clenched jaw and forced smile, but willingly and happily unto the honor of God. While we must not give up our hope of being better, of finding our expectation this Advent to have had a healing and strengthening effect on our feeble and ailing souls, while indeed this must be the aim of Advent itself, to be ready and willing to greet the coming of Jesus Christ with joy and gladness, we must admit that no Advent discipline or hope will be enough to make us fit watchmen to greet the King. Nothing on our part will make his coming again in glory any more rightly proportioned to the kinds of lives we have led. Then, when he comes, as before, when he was born in Bethlehem, we will be the recipients of his hospitality, not he ours. It is he who will receive us, not we him.

Yet, if we can never be fitting sentinels keeping watch for Christ, we can do so for one another. We can, especially in Advent, but throughout our lives, strive again and again to receive one another, as Christ hath received us unto the honor of God. We can make time for the spiteful and the gossip, we can embrace the man whose politics we find odious and the woman whose vision of the Church we take to be at best regrettable, at worst a positive scandal. All of these we can strive to receive, in our lives, in our congregations, and in our daily prayer. It is in this pattern of receiving the loveless and, so it might easily seem, unlovable that Advent can transform us, day by day, into the very pattern of his first coming, into the very love of Jesus Christ.