My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
The Gospel reading this year for the First Sunday of Advent tells us of a rather ominous saying of Jesus which is meant to prepare us not only for Christmas, but also for the end of time: “Be watchful, be alert for you do not know when the time will come.”
Advent is both a time of expectation for the celebration of the birth of Christ at Christmas and a preparation for the end times. When the end of the world will come, we do not know. As the Gospel of the First Sunday of Advent tells us, “Neither do you know when the house owner will return to the servants.”
This year, perhaps Christmas will be a more difficult one for most of us, given the anxiety that we all feel about the Covid-19 situation. It will not be so easy to come up with the usual joyful and gleeful Christmas spirit that all would like during this time of year. There are some who are still grieving the loss of loved ones due to the virus, others have lost businesses and jobs, and yet others seem to be deep in despair for many reasons. Christmas 2020 will not be an ordinary Christmas for us.
At the same time, however, we have to understand the dual aspect of Advent. Advent is a joyful period but one with a certain somberness that reminds us of this dual preparation for the birth of Christ and His coming at the end of the world, which gives us pause and makes us recognize that all that we do matters for our own salvation.
We have been struggling to make our churches in Brooklyn and Queens available to as many people as possible who can safely come. Perhaps this year, Advent will be more a preparation at home rather than in church for many. Remember, our Sunday and daily Masses are still live streaming, our TV Masses on NET-TV are live so that the faithful can participate directly, making spiritual communions.
How can we prepare for Christmas in this difficult time? Perhaps it means that we must share our anxieties and even our mourning with others. Keeping these things to ourselves does not help us to grow, nor can we keep these feelings private and personal. First, it is important that we bring our difficulties to our prayer. Second, that we do share with others our situation. It is very easy to fall into the trap of isolation during these Covid-19 times. Some of the isolation is necessary, however, we have means of communications that do not put us in danger; the phone, the Internet and so many ways that we can reach out to others allow us to share our difficulties and also our joys as we come closer to Christmas. For many people, shopping during the weeks before Christmas provides an opportunity to think of their loved ones and find a special gift for them. This may not be as easy as in the past, but as you know, ‘online shopping’ has become vogue during these difficult times.
Preparation for Christmas at its heart must be a spiritual time. We must recognize the fact of the Incarnation, that Christ became man in order to share our human condition, in all things but sin. And so, the difficulties that we find have all been experienced by Christ, Himself, at one time or another during His public life. We see especially all of the possible things that could go wrong for someone, did go wrong for Jesus. He was betrayed. He was misunderstood. And eventually, He was put to death for all of the miracles and good that He accomplished. This should not, however, depress us. Rather, this should give us the hope that is necessary to make Advent a time of joyful expectation for Christ coming in the flesh before His coming at the end of time. For ways to assist us during Advent, check out rediscoverchristmas.org, a service of our own DeSales Media.
Perhaps one of the best portrayals of the end of the world is the fresco of Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel. Truly, this is a marvelous work of art and theology. We see Michelangelo’s Last Judgment as a background of a blue sky with clouds. There are both ominous and joyful depictions in the fresco. Christ, the great judge, is flanked by Mary, His Mother, who intercedes for those who wish to enter Heaven. In his description, Michelangelo depicts “A sky which never experiences nightfall,” as he, himself, said.
As we put out into the deep at this time of Covid-19-generated hopelessness, we are given an opportunity to reset our vision of Christ, who is in our lives. This is a time to truly see what Christmas is all about, and at the same time, remembering that each year we come closer to our own encounter with the Lord. As the world continues to grow old in its ways, we are ever renewed by the presence of Christ in our lives.