I mentioned that I had the pleasure of worshipping at Smokey Matt’s this past Advent Sunday. Here follows the aforementioned excellent sermon preached by the Rector. (With thanks to Fr. Duncan for passing it along.)
A Sermon Preached by Father Dwight D. Duncan, ssc – Rector, St Matthias’ Church, Dallas, Texas
11/28/2010 ADVENT I Romans 13:8-14, Year A
A new Christian Year begins today. We have entered the season of Advent, four weeks of preparing ourselves to celebrate worthily the nativity of Our Lord and Savior. We mark this new beginning in various ways:
# Some of the prayers and music of the Mass change. They are stately, simpler, expressing longing for the Savior.
# An Advent Wreath stands before us, its candles marking our progress through the weeks of our journey to Bethlehem.
# The vesture of the altar and the Sacred Ministers changes, blue predominating. But this blue is not vibrant. It is soft, sober, expressing Advent’s calm, patient, deliberate progress to Christmass.
Our changes in “here” are in marked contrast to those confronting us out “there”. Out “there”, music bombards us everywhere, its tempo rapid, its tone loud, encouraging us to scurry about the “busyness” of what the secular world makes of this season. Colors have changed out “there” as well: vivid colors of over-flowing decorations, assaulting our eyes sometimes like strobe lights.
In Advent, the contrast between the attitude of the Catholic Christian and modern secular people is at its most radical. My wife and I have already experienced this, during our recent pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham in England. Whenever we left the precincts of the Shrine, we were confronted with this split. Actually, we were confronted with this radical disconnect even within the Shrine, whenever we turned on the television. It was startlingly to discover how profoundly saturated with the secular world’s abuse of this season England is. Nary a mention or sign of Christ, but most definitely signs, symbols, sounds of a pagan bacchanalia. Everywhere ... everywhere.
The secularist spends this time frantically celebrating a godless winter holiday, speaking much of a “spirit of the season” that he would wish to last the entire year. But that “spirit” relies on the energy and effort of us humans and too often is fueled by the spirits in one’s cocktail, a reason why this spirit can hardly last 12 hours! The Catholic Christian, on the other hand, is called in this season to the same calm pace and quietness which our Lady Mary kept as she awaited the bringing-forth, not of some sentimental spirit of the season, but of the Word of God made flesh.
The “world” – and in saying this I recognize, as must you, how much the “world” is still within each of us – the “world” is comfortable with “the spirit of the season” because this spirit makes no real demands on it’s body, appetites, and indulgences. The spirit of the secular winter holiday encourages us to eat and drink to excess, to stay up late, to overspend, to stay busy, and to try hard to have a good time. Most definitely, this season’s spirit is good for business.
But this world is not comfortable with the God-made-Man whose birth we Christians are preparing to celebrate. The world is uncomfortable with the Christian celebration because it rightly suspects danger to its business as usual. It rightly suspects that a God who chooses to clothe himself in our flesh, our matter, is going to make material demands on us. This God will require that our appetites be disciplined and not indulged, that all his gifts to us be used to his glory and for the common good. And that is bad for business.
The “world” is also not comfortable with the calm pace and quietness of Advent. The “world” wants noise, constant activity, go-go-go. Normally, one of the public places where we can stop for a few moments and have some quiet is a rest-room. Note the word: rest-room. You can’t go there during this season and get that, not with that horrid music pressuring you to get on with it!
The “world”, you see, fears that in the calm and quiet a Voice might speak, a Voice which will ask us to give not things, but to give ourselves. And so the more noise, the more activity, the more spending, the better, for the Voice itself is still and small and easily drowned.
We who profess the Catholic faith have not so learned Christ. No, this is what we have learned, as St Paul puts it to us in today’s lesson from his letter to the Christians in Rome: “Let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us conduct ourselves becomingly as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ.”
“Put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” Exactly. In this holy season, we Christians are called to open ourselves to this Season’s real spirit, the Holy Spirit. We are to put aside the frantic activity of the secular season. Insofar as it is possible, and just a little bit more than is possible, we are to become still and quiet. We are to look at God and into ourselves. We are to seek by the grace of the One-Who-Comes to set right the disorder in our lives, to subdue to him the world that remains within us and to prepare a place where he might lodge.
It is not that we are to shun our secular neighbors and separate ourselves from them during this Season. That would be a gross violation of charity. Rather we are to order our movement with them through this Season so that it is redeemed and sanctified, so that, through us, they are touched within it by the true Spirit of this Season, rather than by the spirit they try so desperately to manufacture.
With this in mind, I give you a few suggestions to help you redeem this Season, for yourselves and our secular neighbors. Taking a cue from our good Curate, who often makes his points by a succession of words beginning with the same letter, my suggestions are four “P’s”: parties, presents, prayer, penance.
PARTIES: You and I are going to be invited to parties before the real party season, Christmass, arrives. What should we do? Well, if you are free and willing to go, accept the invitation. That will be an act of charity towards your hosts. But go to the party with an agenda different from that of most people.
First, drink less and don’t stay out as late. That will be an act of charity to yourself, and also to others who will not have had to endure boorish, inebriated behavior from you and whose roads will be safer when they are on them.
Second, our tendency at parties is to want others to entertain us, to take an interest in us. Instead, look for someone to whom no one else is paying attention or someone with whom you’d rather have little or nothing to do. Go to them; draw them out; take an interest in them. In doing this, you will be imitating your Savior, who came not to be served, but to serve.
PRESENTS: For those personal gifts you wish to give, budget your spending and don’t spend more money than you have. Otherwise you will be a poor steward of the treasure God has given you. And don’t wait until the last minute to select your gifts: by that point you will be in real danger of overspending.
And when you wrap those gifts: give yourself to the recipient and give the recipient to God. What do I mean by this? I mean take your time doing the wrapping; do it the best you can; try to make it something which will be a visual blessing for the one who receives it. But most importantly, pray to God during the wrapping for the person who will receive it.
PRAYER: Spend some time alone with God everyday. Reflect on the Gift he gives you at the end of Advent: himself. Remind yourself why he had to come to us as he did: our sin. Rejoice over all the work he expended to make possible his coming: his labor is testimony of how important to him we are. The Advent Liturgy for the Home is a fine way of observing such a time. Its readings are a wonderful narrative of the plan and action by which God has come to us. And the Liturgy can be done by one person alone or by several together.
PENANCE: Do a thorough examination of conscience before Christmass and make your confession. If you are still too frightened about making your personal confession before a priest (which of course is the Sin of Pride rearing its ugly head!), then for God’s sake and yours do a thorough examination of conscience and offer it up to God at the Christ Mass. Please consider this: when Jesus comes to you at the Christ Mass, you may only be a stable and not a palace, but the stable you are could be/should be in order and its straw clean.
The counsel I’ve just given you for dealing in this Season with Parties, Presents, Prayer, and Penance provide a discipline by which you can prepare room within yourself for the coming King. We cannot do this when we are rushing about frantically, when we are worrying about where we will get the money to pay for extravagant gifts, and when we are burdened with the weight of unconfessed sin. Only when we abide in temperance, in calmness and quietness, and in God’s mercy can we keep the feast which begins on Christmass Day. When we do so abide, then the merriness of Christmass and the quietness of Advent will combine to carry us with joy into the year unfolding ahead. God bless us one and all as we progress
through this most holy and wonderful of seasons.