Politicians and pundits really like Christmas, but then everyone likes a baby shower. You can show off your Christian bona fides in a nice safe manner, adoring the helpless baby before he has a chance to grow up and start talking.
The baby Jesus has not yet driven money-changers from the temple. The baby Jesus does not have the voice to tell us that to look after the less fortunate is to look after him. Jesus will become an adult before he tells us not to make a public spectacle of following him. So as long as we see him as the baby, it’s safe to weaponize his birthday. We loudly proclaim our faith on the street corners, shaking our tambourines at anyone who would be so crass as to offer us the incorrect blessing. We may wait to exchange gifts on Christmas, but truly we’ve already received our reward.
I’ve joked about Christmas waging a war on Advent, but I have come to realize it’s more than a joke. Advent is the season of waiting. From the lectern, we hear Bible verses about not knowing the day and the hour, about being ready. This is punctuated by the story of a town so ill-prepared for the coming of the Lord that he was born in a manger. The paradox of Advent is we extol the virtues of waiting, but use “to wait” as an active verb. We prepare while we wait.
Are we ready? Are our houses in order to receive the Lord? Is there more we can be doing? The world in the year 0 saw the Holy Family friendless refugees. We have carried the shame of that for two millennia. How about the friendless refugees in the year 2017?
It’s much safer to talk about Christmas than Advent. There are fewer active verbs for us. Fewer demands. We can safely declare our Christianity by saying a magic phrase, and boldly stand up to the onslaught of goodwill from those who might give us the wrong kind of blessing. But we need to remember when we practice such virtue, we’ve already received our reward.