Unwrapping the Greatest Gift of Advent.

It is always amazing to me how Facebook can bring me to tears. Several times a month the social media giant sends me a private view of something that I posted from my past. Sometimes it is only a few months ago, but oftentimes, the depiction from several years ago of an image oftentimes forgotten. For me, this week, it was a small Christmas Tree I put up the month before my dad died. I have used it as my image today. It was in the living room of a condominium that Sean and I owned together in Philadelphia. My dad, that tree, our relationship in that form, and the condo are all gone now. Each died to this world as a result of either illness or sacrifice and our mutual willingness to be part of the greater creation of what we now have here at Saint Miriam. For me, this time of year is dreadfully difficult as I grapple with the human aspect of my ministry and life. Advent is my most favorite time of year, and yet it is also one that so often brings me the most pain.

In our recent Advent Series, we have been exploring The Mass. It has renewed my commitment as a priest and my love of Jesus, especially His Presence in the elements transformed for us. Jesus IS the Incarnate Presence. The transformation of bread and wine is not purely symbolic for us as Catholics, it is not merely descriptive, He is the Real Presence and by His willingness to do so, we become participants in the Mass with Jesus. But, in doing so, we also willingly participate in His wounds and sacrifice. Yes, by our longing to sit with the Lord, to dine with Him, we – as His created – also must be willing to sacrifice.

In everything good that has ever been birthed, we learn early on that there can never be true community without painful sacrifice. Sacrifice comes to every life for something greater than that individual life. It has many times for me, and in my learning to see this, I have become less jaded and happier to give up in order to create and to leave for someone else a healthier world; a better place. That is what Facebook reminded me this week. What I gave up willingly, not what I lost, for something greater is the better focus. It is as they say, life-giving. This parish, God’s Church, my future in Heaven, none would be ‘better’ if not for my willingness to let go of that which has been most precious to me. This is my Advent reflection.

And, while I know that our senses are inadequate to inform us of the deepest reality of His coming every week to us, through our deep reverence and belief, we fall into the words of St. Thomas Aquinas when asked what he wanted, and his reply was Domine, non nisi Te,  that is “Lord, nothing except you.”  I pray that every day I have left on this earth, I will fall deeper and deeper in love with the One who loved me first, and still loved me at my worst.

So, for me, and for many others, this fast approaching time of Christmas may be a time of celebration and joy, but this is a difficult time of year for many of us, too. We reflect more deeply and long for much, some of which we know is lost forever. Many of us carry significant weights: grief, loss, depression, anxiety, financial stress, unemployment, uncertainty, aging parents, sick children, recent diagnoses, unknown illnesses, and losses suffered. The public tone of the season somehow does not resonate with many of our private experiences. We seem out of sync and alone.

This is why we created The Longest Night on December 21stat 6:30pm this year. The shape of our worship offered here that evening begins by us gathering in honesty about grief, and loss, and pain undiminished and our willingness in hearing the consolation found in God’s presence and love; with friend and stranger gathered with us alike. Then, we depart back into the coldness of the night, but this time with the joy that comes from memory and a sense of shared peace.

In our gathering together, on the day with the least amount of sunlight, somehow our reflections are eased. The Facebook images became less harsh, the memories less sharp, and the pain of our existence and inner turmoil shared and unloaded to the greater community where the sacrifice of the One who comes to us renewed allows us to move forward to where we might be called.

I pray you join me that evening. If not for you, then for us. Perhaps that will be your sacrifice: a little time in a sacred space where God might be found…that is how we will unwrap the greatest gift of Advent.

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