Here we are — eight shopping days to Christmas — or as noted in the Church’s liturgical calendar, the beginning of the Late Advent Weekdays which are meant to prepare us more directly for the celebration of the Lord’s birth. I don’t know about you, but I just don’t know where time goes and if you are wondering… no, I am not done with my Christmas shopping! In truth, I need to get started!

Some of us might feel the same about the season of Advent. We might wonder where the last two-and-half weeks have gone and be concerned about all the missed opportunities for time with God and neighbor. The good news is that there is still time to prepare ourselves for the Christmas feast. In fact, I have been thinking that maybe there is a lesson for you and me at this juncture in time. We have been focusing in this Advent season on “accompaniment” of others, but what about God accompanying us? Are we not preparing to celebrate the Incarnation of our God who comes to walk with us in time and where we are at?

I got thinking about this notion when I was preparing my homily for this past Sunday as I celebrated the Third Sunday of Advent with the parishes of St. Ann’s & St. Charles, as well as St. Patrick–St. Brigid. So let me share it with you:

Family, friends, and parishioners had gathered around the baptismal font; the proud parents had brought their infant son Andrew for baptism. Four-year-old big brother Brian was all eyes and ears when Father poured the water and blessed and anointed the baby. After Mass he ran up and jumped into Father’s arms, intently looked at him, and said, “Hello, Jesus!”

Now before anyone gets an idea, I don’t have a Jesus-, or more appropriately this Sunday, a Christ-complex developing here. Yet, even I am jealous of little Brian’s simple faith to see acts of goodness and to recognize Jesus’ presence in our midst. One could hardly blame John the Baptist for wondering about the true identity of his cousin Jesus. John’s outspokenness in front of King Herod had earned him imprisonment in a dungeon and the prospects of death. In his prison cell, John had been hearing stories about the peaceful behavior of Jesus which did not fit his own expectation of a stern Messiah ushering in an age of fiery judgment.

Anxious to find out if his cousin was the promised one for whom he had prepared the people by his preaching, John sent his messengers to Jesus with the urgent question, “Are you the one to come, or should we look for another?” The reply given by Jesus indicated that his ministry was one of healing and life-giving. The deaf were hearing; the blind were seeing. People were beginning to experience a new life and the poor were receiving the Good News that God was on their side. John would not be slow to draw the conclusion from such an answer that his cousin was indeed the Christ who was to come… the long-awaited Messiah. He could face his future with the assurance that his own life had been meaningful and worthwhile.

My sisters and brothers, the question posed by John has relevance in every age. Advent is an opportune time to assess what impact or influence Jesus has on our lives and on our behavior. Are our values Christ’s values? Can Jesus Christ be seen alive today in our actions? Jesus had time for failure, for the wounded heart and the bruised soul… and we shape His kingdom by bringing his compassion wherever it is needed, today.

Every December, the Santas in our lives ask what gifts we would like to find under the tree on Christmas morning. Then they go to work to make those wishes a reality.

What do you want for Christmas? Now, the austere John the Baptizer will never be confused for jolly old St. Nick — but John’s situation in life this Lord’s Day poses three questions for our consideration in this final full week of Advent:

   (1) What are you WANTING FOR this Christmas?

   (2) What do you HOPE FOR this Christmas?

   (3) What would you GIVE this Christmas?

First, what are you and I wanting for this Christmas? What emptiness do you and I ache to be filled? What is missing from your life… from my life… that God alone can complete?

Second, what do you and I hope for this Christmas? What would we like this Christmas to be? What would make this Christmas whole, complete, new: A friendship restored? A relationship renewed? A chance to make things right?

Third, what would we give this Christmas? What gifts are you and I willing to give that can’t be wrapped and placed under the tree: Patience? Understanding? Time? What would we be willing to give up to make this Christmas special for someone else: our expectation of getting even or for restitution, our obsession to make sure we have everything “under control,” our need to be loved vs. others’ need to be loved?

My brothers and sisters, Advent is a time when we can open our eyes to see in new ways the presence of Jesus in our midst — in good actions, in the holiness of others, in forgiveness and healing. It is in these moments that he can fulfill our deepest longings and desires… that Jesus can come to save us.

This week let each of us be patient enough so that in time Christ can come to us and we can be prepared to greet him. Then like Brian we will be able to say, “Hello, Jesus!” and come to know that we do not walk this way alone… that you and I, too, have a place in God’s family!

Something to ponder in the waning days of the Advent season and hopefully a gift that we can enjoy unwrapping in the Christmas season! Know that my prayers accompany you and your loved ones in the coming days. Merry Christmas and a Blessed New Year to all my Syracuse family!

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