Bishop and Christian*
From the Pastor
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2, ESV).
That transforming renewal is the purpose of the Church year. It is the purpose of everything that the Church does in keeping and marking time, in praying the liturgy, and in her feasts and fasts. It is extremely easy, in the midst of this world and its ways of thinking, to be conformed to its image, rather than the Image of Christ. That is part of the reason why the Church’s calendar and ways of marking time is different from the world’s calendar and ways of marking time. What would happen if all Christians thought as and with the Church, rather than as semi-worldly (even minus the “semi-”), practical atheists?
The Church year, which begins this year on November 29, starts with Advent. Advent (which means “coming”) is stark in its contrast to the world’s preparation for Christmas. The world has no sense of waiting, no sense of watching, no sense of holy patience or preparation. Advent brings all of these things to our minds and helps us to cultivate them in active opposition to the corrosive tendencies of the surrounding culture. The world does not know how to celebrate; it can only party. The world does not know how to prepare; it can only buy and bake. The world does not know how to watch and wait; it can only ask, “How many shopping days until Christmas?” But Advent does not teach us mere celebration, mere preparation, mere watching and waiting. Advent teaches us celebration of the greatest mystery and miracle in the entire history of the world. Advent teaches us to prepare not only to celebrate a Birth, but to celebrate an End: the end of all things. Advent teaches us to watch and wait for the Man who was born in Bethlehem over 2000 years ago.
It doesn’t take too much observation to see that Advent is about as foreign to our culture as the Church herself. That is the real reason why we hear Christmas muzak in the stores on November 1: because, to the world, Christmas equals buy, buy, buy (return, return, return); help the economy; the spirit of “giving” (things that people don’t need or want); the warm, fuzzy feeling that we get when we imagine white Christmases and Santa Claus coming to town.
Only the Church can prepare, and so celebrate, rightly and fully. We have four weeks of God preparing us through strange characters such as John the Baptizer; we have four weeks of building anticipation and growing light; we have four weeks of being reminded that the infant King will come again in all His glory. And then, we do not throw out the tree on December 26! We have twelve days of celebration for the Mass of Christ. But we don’t stop then. Starting January 6 (Epiphany), we celebrate the Light who came to all nations.
In the midst of all your buying and preparing for what the world calls Christmas, remember that the Church thinks and keeps time differently. This is the beginning of our new year of grace through Jesus Christ. And that makes Christ-mass not just “happy,” or even “merry,” but blessed!
*St. Augustine (354-430 AD), Bishop of Hippo in North Africa, said, “For you I am a bishop [overseer]; with you I am a Christian.”