Tuesday, December 03, 2002

Advent is a penitential season, and I can prove it

In the office of readings on Sunday, the first day of Advent, we find this quote from Isaiah:

What care I for the number of your sacrifices? says the LORD. I have had enough of whole-burnt rams and fat of fatlings; In the blood of calves, lambs and goats I find no pleasure. When you come in to visit me, who asks these things of you? Trample my courts no more! Bring no more worthless offerings; your incense is loathsome to me. New moon and sabbath, calling of assemblies, octaves with wickedness: these I cannot bear. Your new moons and festivals I detest; they weigh me down, I tire of the load. When you spread out your hands, I close my eyes to you; Though you pray the more, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood! Wash yourselves clean! Put away your misdeeds from before my eyes; cease doing evil; learn to do good. Make justice your aim: redress the wronged, hear the orphan's plea, defend the widow. Come now, let us set things right, says the LORD: Though your sins be like scarlet, they may become white as snow; Though they be crimson red, they may become white as wool. If you are willing, and obey, you shall eat the good things of the land; But if you refuse and resist, the sword shall consume you: for the mouth of the LORD has spoken!

Christmas is not merely a feast of the birth of a little child, but rather is the feast celebrating the glorious coming of the Lord. Would you prepare yourself for the Lord's coming by indulging your whims, by getting fat from holiday meals, by getting lots of goodies? Perhaps we should take the Lord's advice and prepare for Christmas by making our souls "white as snow." As my wonderful pastor says, Christmastime has it exactly backwards: rather than giving up attachments to earthly things for the sake of Christ, we build up our attachments to this life. But Jesus explains the cost of following him: "If any man comes to me without hating his father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, yes and his own life too, he cannot be my disciple." (Luke 14:26) If we must love God above father, mother, etc., than surely we must love God more than all the finest food and latest gadgets. Spend Advent in prayer and fasting, so as to be ready for Christ when he comes. If you aren't sure how to fast, you could either follow the Eastern custom of foregoing meat and dairy products on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, or you could do like Latin Rite Catholics are supposed to do, and give up meat on Fridays or do some other penance.

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