Happy Advent! I’ve got to say with all this snow outside, it really is starting to look a lot like Christmas. Just this week, we ordered some of the pieces for our Christmas decorations that we realized we needed when we got everything out last year. The shopping season has begun, even though if you’re like me and avoiding stores right now, I think most of my Christmas shopping is going to get delivered to the back door via either a brown or white truck. Still, please make sure to check out our baskets this weekend. I know it’s not quite the same as having it during the dinner, but there’s some wonderful potential Christmas gifts down there.
Although we won’t be able to have all the normal Christmas festivities and parties this year, maybe that’s ok. I think for all of us, this year’s Christmas will be unlike any other. It’ll be a bit smaller than usual, but at the same time, maybe that’s OK. At a wedding I just celebrated last weekend between two of our parish families, Julie Pawlikowski and Brian Laurito, we only had about 14 people present for the wedding due to covid restrictions. Yet, as we looked around, both of their families were there, and the bride commented, “Wow, I’m not nearly as nervous as I would be if we had all those people” and in a real way they were able to focus not on all the externals that happen at weddings, but really on what’s most important. Now I’m not suggesting that we do away with big weddings, it’s good to celebrate and gather with family, but when these sort of necessary changes happen, can we really take these moments to appreciate the real essential parts?
This year, as we make our Advent preparations, the world is a lot scarier than it’s been in the past. This year, I think the idea of preparing the way for the Lord that we hear in the Gospel takes on new meaning. Just this week I saw that Johnstown Hospital declared they were full and have been re-routing patients to Pittsburgh. Things are getting very scary. Yet, in these moments it’s the perfect time to really work to set ourselves right with God, to renew our relationship with Jesus Christ, to prepare our hearts for the coming of the Lord at Christmas. When the world looks like it’s in trouble, it’s then that we realize how much we need a Savior.
In that light, please don’t forget about the Immaculate Holy Day coming up this Tuesday, with a Vigil on Monday. Similarly, next week, on the 16th, 17th, or 20th, please take advantage of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. If you’re not sure, just ask yourself, would I be able to look Jesus in the eye and say, “send me exactly what I deserve?”. If we’re not ready to do that (and I know I’m certainly not) then we need the Sacrament of Reconciliation, to ask for God’s mercy, knowing that he’ll grant it, realizing that even though we don’t deserve to be forgiven, he still wants to heal our brokenness, pick us up, and save us from our sins.
Please take advantage too of so many of the amazing Advent traditions that we can each do at home, even in these days when we can’t gather. Pick up your Oplatki, set up that Advent wreath or Jesse Tree at home, read your scriptures, or watch some Christmas themed things on FORMED.org. I’d recommend the Advent series I posted last year, “The Boy Who Became Santa”, (the story of St. Nicholas), “Christoph and the First Christmas Tree” (the story of St. Boniface), or any of the St. Nicholas or Advent materials. There’s lots of great stuff.
If you’re a reader, I’ll share my favorite Advent book, it’s available on Amazon. It’s called “Mary, as the Early Christians Knew Her: The Mother of Jesus in Three Ancient Texts” by Frederica Matthewes-Green. She’s an Orthodox woman who shares one of the non-biblical accounts of the nativity story called the “Protoevangelion of James”. It’s a book I love to read during Advent as it tells about the little details of Christmas that would have surely happened, but aren’t included in the story. Probably my favorite is a scene where Mary realizes that it’s nearly time for the child to come, so St. Joseph goes around town to find a midwife to help deliver the baby and has to explain the story of how this woman travelling with him is his wife, but it’s not his child, but it’s ok because the child is conceived by the Holy Spirit. Meanwhile the midwife simply looks at St. Joseph and says “right….just show me where she is.”
Whatever reading or devotion, or practice you do as a family, make sure that in the midst of the craziness of the world right now that you stop long enough to really work on putting our relationship with God back where it should be, so that together we can fill in the valleys, make the mountains low and prepare a highways into our hearts for the savior.
May God bless you now and always,
Father Matthew Baum is the Parish Administrator at Prince of Peace Church in Northern Cambria, PA.