Not Just for Christmas
Not Just for Christmas

Not Just for Christmas

First Sunday of Advent. Fr Toby Lees encourages us to make Advent the time when we finally emerge into the light.

‘It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas’ sings Perry Como/Bing Crosby/Michael Bublé . . . pick your favourite, or perhaps least ghastly. I’m not a fan . . . of the song . . . I like Christmas a lot! But by the First Sunday Advent it’s been looking a lot like Christmas for quite some time, and though the readings warn of being caught unawares by the Second Coming, you’d have to be living in a bunker with no Wi-Fi or TV to get caught out by the coming of Christmas. Now, at this point, I could go into one of those grumbling homilies about how we’ve lost any sense of anticipation, how we no longer take time to prepare to celebrate, and that when the celebration arrives we’re jaded and it ends far too soon. I’ve given that homily before, it didn’t inspire me much, and I’ve already repeated enough of it here.

Instead, with Christmas in evidence for quite some time now, my mind turned to those adverts and stickers which you sometimes see around Christmas that say ‘A dog is for life, not just for Christmas’. It prompted me to think that ‘the Incarnation is for life, not just for Christmas’. The Incarnation happens at a point in time, but its effects reverberate throughout all of time.

At the beginning of this month we celebrated the great solemnity of All Saints, those countless lives across time transformed by the grace poured out from the Cross, transformed by the making new of all things in Christ, lives fully transfigured by the Incarnation. And then the very next day we celebrated All Souls, recognising that the response of many of us to the grace of Christ is stuttering, perhaps often more of a ‘maybe’ than a ‘definitely’, and then we keep the Holy Souls in Purgatory in our prayers for the rest of the month in a particular way. But Definitely Maybe will not lead us into the Oasis of Heaven. Whilst we might fall short and end up in Purgatory before Heaven, we should aim for nothing less than Heaven. Accordingly, our first choice and our first love should be God.

It can feel like a should a lot of the time too, it’s not supposed to, because God is the answer to our deepest desire, but God requires a deep dive, and there are so many easy diversions in the shallows. When we talk about a leap of faith, I don’t think it’s so much an intellectual leap as an experiential one. The courage required to fully enter the experiment of Christian living, not just profess it. We’re called to deep-dive and not just snorkel, or worse stay on the beach wondering what the water is like. Wonder should lead to immersion.

GK Chesterton wrote, ‘The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.’ Christ’s gift to us was not half-hearted, the Christian response cannot be one foot in, one foot out, we have to trust that the difficulty, the Cross, is part of the embrace of the fulness of life.

The nature of Christian love is gift, not the gift of what I have, but of who I am. But I cannot give what I do not have, if I do not fully possess myself, if I cannot control my desires, then I cannot have the self-possession to truly give myself to someone. Fasting, though unfashionable, is, in fact, an exercise in freedom to love. I do not fast because food is bad, I fast because food is good, and the Eucharist the best food of all. I fast because I want to be able to truly savour that which is best.

Just like the Incarnation is not just for Christmas, fasting is not just for Lent, it’s also for Advent . . . and the rest of the year. But Advent is the oft-neglected time the Church proposes for a particular focus on fasting. Advent is a time to recognise ‘if not now, when?’, a time not ‘just to give up all the things we prefer to do under the cover of the dark’, but to start walking boldly into the light, and to trust that the light is enough. We can filter the goodness of God, giving thanks for all the goodness of creation, all the delightful diversions of life, but that can’t be the only way we see Him, we need to be brave enough to trust that light will not blind us not will it bore.

Readings: Isaiah 2:1-5 | Romans 13:11-14 | Matthew 24:37-44

Image: detail from ‘Christmas Lights on New Street’ photographed by Elliott Brown

Fr Toby Lees is assistant priest at Our Lady of the Rosary and St Dominic's, London, and Priest Director of Radio Maria England.

Comments (1)

  • Barbara Ren

    Thank you for your homily Fr Toby.


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