December 11, 2013
Keep Christ in Christmas.

Jesus is the reason for the season.

Both statements are little slogans we use to beat back the total commercialization of the Nativity of our Lord. We hear “Happy holidays”, and, “Season's Greetings” when we brave the outside world, and perhaps, like me, you reply under your breath, “It's not Christmas yet.” Because, of course, we know this is not actually Christmas but Advent, the period during which we prepare for the coming of the Lord.

'Keep Christ in Christmas', and 'Jesus is the reason for the season' remind us that Our Lord is the center, the heart, of daily life, including the gift giving and festive gatherings. The coming of the Lord is surely worthy of anticipation... but while we wait, are we lacking?

Old Beggar, Vasily Tropinin
I go to a downtown parish. If I lived in LA or Detroit, it would be called an inner city church, but you'd be hard pressed to find anything remotely gangsta in this tame city. Even still, we have the usual downtown fixtures of groups of teenagers hanging outside the coffee shops and homeless people hoping for spare change. Two weeks ago, one of those homeless men, Max, came into the church after Mass and asked for money from people still sitting in the pews.

While I attend Mass in a smallish city, I live in an even smaller town, and work in its equally small library. It's a lovely place to work, most especially because I have had the opportunity to get to know our regular patrons. One of those, Louise, is a dear, kind, joyful lady. She is quick with a smile, is always appreciative of what we do for her, and loves to talk about what she is reading. Louise also suffers very greatly from back, shoulder, and hip complaints – so much so that she walks stooped over and slightly twisted to one side. Her doctors, unfortunately, can do nothing to remedy her situation.

Gabrielle lives in a group home because she is unable to care for herself. She has a brain injury which has stolen her memory. Every Wednesday she asks me for the same items: Sting, Avril Lavigne, Barbra Streisand, Celine Dion. She can't remember where to find them, and comes to the desk four separate times to ask for each one individually.

Then there is Martha who has been more subdued with each passing week because this year for the first time her husband's advanced Alzheimer's will keep him in the nursing home for Christmas.

While I was humbled by Louise's quiet joy in the face of pain and suffering, and was moved by Martha's patient and steadfast love for her husband, I would often be very impatient with Gabrielle's frequent and repetitive questions, and annoyed with Max for approaching me inside the church.

Not many days ago, a colleague and I were talking about how difficult English must be to learn as a second language because of its subtleties and nuances and exceptions to the rule. The book that triggered the conversation was called “The Present”. Was the book about a period of time, or about a gift? You'd have to read it to find out because the cover gave nothing away. Somehow, that title got folded into my thoughts about “It's Advent, not Christmas” and my dislike for the frenetic pace of pre-Christmas hullabaloo.

Thankfully God is patient with me, because it took a while for the realization to sink in: Christ is both. He is God's greatest gift to us, and He is present... right now. He is in each of those people – the ones who are easy to love and admire, as well as those who are more difficult to accept as they are.

All of which helped me see that Advent is one of those paradoxes God seems to love sprinkling through our faith: Advent is a time of waiting and preparing for what we already have. Christ is present among us. We need only have the eyes to see.

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