Sunday, December 07, 2008

We aren't ready

Advent is an interesting season. In the modern West it has been nearly eclipsed by the mercantile Christmas season (or “XMas”, as C.S. Lewis puts it in his classic essay.) Even for those who strive to observe Advent, such as our family, it can seem a season without depth. When I was growing up, Advent was sort of a “mini-Lent”, and we gave things up or made resolutions, but it never had the grim severity that accompanied the season approaching the Passion (for one thing, that steadily increasing sequence of lit candles was a promising countdown to the Big Day!) So the season tended to devolve into flat rituals, such as opening the doors of the Advent calendar and reading the specified verses. Even the Mass readings took on a predictable cant: “A voice cries out in the wilderness, 'Prepare the way of the Lord!'” “For unto us a Child is born...” The theme of sober preparation, of getting ourselves ready, gets lost in the merriment accompanying the approaching holiday, and lost along with it is the underlying statement implied in that theme.

Implied statement? What would that be?

That we're not ready.

Not ready? How can that be? Aren't we careful to follow all the Church instructions regarding Mass attendance? Do not many of us consecrate even common days to the Lord with Rosaries, or saying the Liturgy of the Hours, or Scripture study? Do we not pray and seek the Lord several times a day?

Perhaps we do. But the ancient cycle of the Church Year was drawn up by men who did those things as well, and in their wisdom they ordained that there should be such a Season, and its message should be: Prepare. It may profit us to examine their reasoning more closely.

In what ways might we be not prepared for Christ's coming? There's an interesting incident in Israel's history that gives a clue. It's in Joshua 24, in the same context as the famous “as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” passage (v. 15). In verse 23, Joshua instructs the people to “put away the foreign gods” and to make good on the repeated promises they make to follow the Lord alone (v. 16-24)

But what are these “foreign gods”, and why would this generation of Israelites have any? The literal word is teraphim, and scholars agree that these were household idols – we might call them talismans or good luck charm charms – that people tucked into nooks and crannies of their homes (or tents, as the case may be.) These weren't big, public idols – the last time the Israelites tried that, it was with a golden calf at the foot of Sinai, and the results were catastrophic – but petty little tokens intended to bring luck, or watch over some portion of the hearth or home. In the Israelites' eyes, they weren't so much blatant idolatrous rebellion as minor fetishes.

God didn't see them as minor. He wanted to be the only God the Israelites had, and have His law rule every corner of their lives. But neither did He see these petty godlings as the kind of gross offense the Golden Calf had been. The Israelites brought them out, renounced them, and buried them under a tree.

But you can bet that these petty distractions crept back in over time – as similar things do in our lives. That's why times like Advent are helpful. Perhaps that can be a focus for us: asking God to help us see the petty trinkets and tokens we've let creep in. What are we looking to besides God? What things might He want to clean out? If we did hear a knock on the door of our lives and knew it was Jesus, would we rush to open it for Him? Or would we call out, “just a second!” and scurry about tucking away things we wouldn't want out in plain sight when He walked in? If so, what are those things, and what can we do about them now?

1 comment:

Branwen said...

That was exactly what I needed to read at this moment. Thanks for writing so thoughtfully Dad!