Seasonal Distractions
GUIDING LIGHT - Rev. Fr. Benjamin Sim sj (The Freeman) - December 2, 2018 - 12:00am

Signs and symbols play an important part of our lives. They are meant to guide us or protect us.


When we see the sign of a skull above two crossed bones on a bottle, we know we won’t remain healthy for long if we swallow what’s in it.

When the traffic light turns red it means “stop,” although many drivers don’t know that, and some think, “It’s only a suggestion.” When the light turns green it means, “go.” And when it turns yellow – some people say it means “go faster.”

Disregarding signs often leads to troubles that we regret too late. A motorist ignoring the “no smoking” signs at the gas station throws his lighted cigarette carelessly. An explosion follows. Too late to regret!

On the other hand some signs spell joy and relief.  When you are traveling for long hours on an empty stomach and you feel terribly thirsty, the sign spoons and fork, or just “Rest Stop” brings great relief and joy. When your bladder is “under pressure,” you would heave a sigh of relief once you see a sign “clean rest rooms.”

Advent begins a new year of the Church. The season re-tells the wonderful story of the redemption of mankind.

Long ago people searched for signs from God, and in due time his words to the prophets were fulfilled – and Christ came to live among us.

Today we are called to be the signs of His presence, His love and ministry in the world. Today we enter that most wonderful season of hopefulness and preparation.

Yes, it should be a time of soul-searching, and preparation for the most wonderful Guest to enter our homes. In the words of the prophet Isaiah, “God is with us.” And we hear once again the ancient prophetic readings of what this Guest is to bring to humankind.

Though the prophets’ words may have fit historical situations of long ago, their poetry still comes filled with new meaning as once again we prepare ourselves to celebrate the fresh coming of the One already known and loved. At this time we are already bombarded with the attractions of Christmas shopping – gifts and parties.

In an old German tradition, Christians are warned against the “Advent Teufel” or Advent Devil.

This tricky character is out to keep people so busy, distracted and over-extended that they completely lose sight of the meaning of Christmas.

Religious Christmas carols – like “O Holy Night” and “Adeste Fideles” – have now been mostly replaced by pop tunes of the season focusing on romantic love, Happy Holidays, gifts and parties.

The Advent Devil lures us into the shopping mall one or more times, urges us to pile one activity upon another. He misleads us into focusing on material things and pleasure. He is a wizard with numbers, persuading us that there are more than 24 hours in a day and more money in our bank accounts than reason dictates.

It is the Advent Devil himself who inspires department store signs that read: “Make this a Christmas your spouse or your parents won’t forget! Charge everything!”

We all have good Advent intentions. But often, before the first week is over, the anxieties of the season have wrapped themselves around our necks with a strangle hold of a boa constrictor.

Our worry about getting everything done before Christmas overwhelms us. Swept off our feet by the commercial tide, we are robbed of the time, attention and energy we intended to give to God.

Today, Jesus gives us a wake-up call: “Be vigilant. Pray that you have the strength to stand before the Son of Man when he comes in glory.”

1. Stand firm against Advent anxieties.

A British singing group years ago recorded a fun-song called “Walking Backwards for Christmas.” It encouraged folks to walk not towards the glitter and gleeful attractions of a store-bought Christmas – but backwards, away from the mesmerizing commercialization of the holidays.

Imagine how liberating that act would be. Picture yourself saying “No” to over-priced brand name toys, clothes and gadgets. See yourself refusing to worry about pleasing everyone on your Christmas list with some fantastic and extraneous gifts. Imagine how much more pleasing to God  and spiritually profitable to yourself, your family and the world if you were to – ever so slowly – start walking backwards for Christmas, away from the glitter, and towards the gold of gifts of self generously given.

2. Stand firm in your Advent mission to give birth to the Son of God. 

Advent is a maternal season. Like pregnant women who eagerly anticipate the birth of a child, we are to take heart at the prospect of Christ’s coming.

The 13th century Dominican preacher Meister Eckhart put it bluntly: “What good is it to me if Mary gave birth to the Son of God 1400 years ago, and I did not give birth to the Son of God in my time and in my culture. We are all meant to be mothers of God.”

Eckhard perfectly explains our Advent mission. We are to give birth to Jesus by nurturing his presence in our own hearts through prayer, Scripture readings and sharing with others how God is acting in our lives.

If we stand firm in our Advent commitment to these things, we will, by our Christmas joy, peace, and compassion, give birth to the Son of God in our time and culture.

3. Stand firm in your Advent hope of Christ’s second coming.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus speaks as a prophet – not of doom, but of hope, consolation, and redemption.

The Apocalypse (the Book of Revelation) is the favorite source of the “prophets of doom” that appear every now and then, especially towards the end of the year.

Few years ago, they were predicting that the coming of the Third Millennium would be the end of the world, and that El Niño was the sign. The rich went panic buying; and the poor, well, just panicked.

However, Jesus intends His apocalyptic images as a promise of our ultimate salvation. When He comes in glory at the parousia or end time, He wants us to be prepared to “stand erect” and raise our heads because “our redemption is at hand.” Our Advent mission is to prepare ourselves for that final day of glory.

How do we do that? Pope Francis says that Christmas is a “charade” (a play-acting) when there is so much wars and hatred in the world.

How do we prepare for the coming of Christ, the Prince of Peace?

• by not allowing our hearts to be drugged by selfishness and worldly cares and senseless anxieties;

• by “abounding in love and peace” for one another – in our in our family, in our work place, in our schools, in our parish, in our communities, especially those whose valid needs (food, clothing, shelter, companionship) Jesus expects us to provide for;

• And by remaining alert for the final “day of the Lord.”

So, decide today, on this First Sunday of Advent, to throw out the Advent Devil. Tell him to get lost.  Say “No thanks” to the commercial hullabaloo like “midnight madness” and turn away from the seasonal distractions that would rob you of your ability to stand firm in the presence of the Lord.

We gather at His table at Mass to strengthen our hearts for his coming. May He enable us “to give birth to the Son of God” in a world that needs Him so badly.

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