Christmas is only four weeks away. Have you started your shopping praying yet?
No one needs reminding here that the shopping season is upon us. The advertising is everywhere. The commercials on television are barely interrupted by the programs. The sound of “White Christmas” and “Jingle Bells” is like an anthem.
It should all be good. The invitation to buy is also an invitation to think of others. There is something beautiful about a gift, every gift. Fancy wrapping and pretty ribbons help to make that statement. A special pie made for a neighbor reaches the heart more than the stomach. And behind the shopping, the buying, the wrapping and the baking is an impulse toward joy. We imagine, we hope, we plan and we spend time and money all in anticipation of sharing the joy of a happy surprise.
The weeks ahead of Christmas should include those goods. Although shopping is a pain for some of us, we are being moved by love somewhere in all that we do. This is the time of year when relationship energy is at its best in the world.
And it all starts with Jesus, the baby born in Bethlehem as the energy of God in human form. His story is the foundation for Christmas shopping. It’s our story, the Christian love story that we begin with a season called Advent. Our season doesn’t get great public attention but if we don’t honor it and maintain it, all of that good in Christmas shopping could fade away.
The first Sunday of Advent is coming up. Be especially present and attentive at Mass on this Sunday and the following three. There may also be Advent vespers, or evening prayer in your parish. Attend that prayer for a different experience of the season. You will find something of its gift of peace.
We don’t have to abandon everything about commercial Christmas to enjoy and benefit from the real Christmas celebration of God-with-us. But we must not neglect the religious story, our story.
The United States might be the most hated and, simultaneously, the most attractive place in the world. It’s a consequence of being big and powerful and earnest.
On the one hand, there are violent fundamentalist voices in the Islamic faith that condemn us as a devil. On the other hand, our laws and fences can’t stop the flood of people who come here for peace and opportunity. We can’t do much about what’s happening as Islam struggles with the modern world other than try to cooperate with others in limiting the mayhem. And we can’t do very much quickly and directly to slow the flow of immigration from places of poverty and violence.
But as divided as we are over ways to manage this immigration, it is something within our power. We can help newcomers find new life here. Unfortunately, a political consensus hasn’t been possible for decades. Both Republican and Democratic majorities in Washington have come and gone without a consensus over immigration policy. The human tide keeps coming and we keep tallying them as “illegal.” Now and then, a president forces a decent opening in the impasse by declaring an “amnesty” of some kind.
President Reagan pushed it; the first President Bush did it and now President Obama has done it. Virtually all religious leaders in the country applauded these actions. The U.S. Catholic bishops applauded. So should we all.