Minding What Matters
I saw a cartoon online earlier this week. A family is seated at the Thanksgiving dinner table with heads bowed in prayer, and a huge roasted bird sits at the center of the table. Actually, it’s the only dish on the table. And the little girl asks, “Why aren’t we this thankful every day?” And my brain goes into overdrive to craft an appropriate response. I know it’s a rhetorical question, because the question is bigger than any one meal, bigger than any one household, bigger than any one Thanksgiving feast. But my mind is hard at work, “Because the world will run out of turkeys pretty quick. And before you know it, we’ll all be sick of turkey, so next year no one will want turkey.” But I decide not to share that thought on social media. In truth, we are thankful on many more days than just Thanksgiving Day. But we mark Thanksgiving Day anyway to remind us that we should be thankful every day. Much like we all mark a birthday once a year, not just to remind us how long we’ve been around, but hopefully to help us appreciate everyday blessings—of life, family, friends, good food, good times. It’s one day. But nothing stops us from appreciating everyday blessings the rest of the year.
Today we enter the season of Advent. And you know how every year I plead with anyone who would listen that we try harder to shift our focus from Christmas back to Advent, the season that properly prepares us to celebrate the great mystery of our redemption by gently calling us to patiently wait and look forward with joy to a truth that is bigger than Christmas. Advent is meant to draw us to ponder Jesus’ return at the end of time, a truth we all must face. But no one wants to ponder Jesus’ return at the end of time when we can all be partying and exchanging presents instead.
So, that’s it. I give up. No more raining on your Christmas parade. It’s a losing battle, and I have decided to stop fighting. Go ahead. Put up your Christmas trees and play your Christmas music. Celebrate your Christmas parties, send your Christmas cards, and exchange Christmas presents. What does it matter anyway? All this Advent talk just postpones the inevitable. And you can stop rolling your eyes and giving each other that look. Anyone who insists on doing Advent sounds like some inflexible killjoy who needs to lighten up, because we would all much rather ride a one-horse open sleigh, and roast chestnuts on an open fire, and watch the Sound of Music or the Grinch on TV like we do every year. And Christmas will be here before we know it, at which time all the good bargains will be gone. Those who want to keep Advent will keep Advent. Those who want to jump ahead to Christmas will jump ahead to Christmas. Nothing I or anyone says will change a thing. And the day will arrive when we will come face to face with Jesus when he returns, either at the end of time or at the end of our own lives, and ready or not, we will find ourselves standing before him. It doesn’t matter whether you’re Florence Henderson or Fidel Castro. Some among us will embrace the moment. Some will dread it. But Jesus already knows how it all goes down. “As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. … So, stay awake. For you do not know on which day the Lord will come.” Merry Christmas to you, too.
Besides, we can all pay attention to more than one thing at a time. And even if we can’t, it’s only as big a deal as we make it. We always manage to do Thanksgiving each year despite whatever could go wrong. Whenever someone new cooks the turkey, they almost always forget to take out the giblets. Or the pumpkin pie is still frozen. Or someone at table has gone gluten-free, or vegan, or has renounced Thanksgiving after reading Russel Simmons … “because [they] don’t cherish the invasion, killing, enslavement, and impoverishment of indigenous Americans, and the ritual annual slaughter of millions of innocent animals at the altar of our great nation’s founding, and the madness of ‘Black Friday’ that our founders, both political and spiritual, would have detested.” And without batting an eye, we simply make room for the gluten-free casserole, and the veggie pizza, the non-partisan brownies, and the non-denominational dinner rolls. And we all bow our heads in prayer giving thanks for the amazing collection of people around the table, and the abundant feast before us.
Advent is simply a reminder that we need to prepare every day for Jesus’ return. No one gets a second opinion, a substitution, or an extension. There will be no low-carb, low-fat, low-salt, sugar-free, gluten-free, or vegetarian option. It doesn’t matter if you’re a citizen or not; if you voted or not; whatever religion you practice; how talented or beautiful you are; who you know or what you’ve achieved; how much money you make, or who will miss you when you go. That day will come for each of us, and we will not know it beforehand. Sure, some of us might have an inkling the day before, or that the terminal diagnosis will surely come to pass. There will be those who will go quickly, and those who will take a while, but few of us will welcome the moment with open arms, not asking instead for more time to say our goodbyes, or make amends, or set our house in order. And at that moment we will be as ready as we will ever be.
Advent isn’t meant to stifle our joyful spirit, or dismiss our attempts at spreading cheer and goodwill. It is not meant for us to lay guilt on others for not observing the holy season as we ourselves would. I once read a scripture commentary that suggested the most fitting image for Advent is a pregnant woman awaiting the birth of her child. Now no expectant mother would demand everyone prepare for her child’s birth as she would. Instead, every expectant mother prepares as only she knows how. Some will read books written by experts. Some will speak to those who have been through the experience. Some will listen to their hearts and know intuitively what needs to be done.
St. Paul isn’t saying anything new we don’t already know. “It is the hour now for you to wake from sleep. For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed; the night is advanced, the day is at hand.” Being alert is entirely up to us.
The prophet Isaiah points us toward “the Lord’s mountain, and the house of the God of Jacob “[where] he [will] instruct us in his ways, [that] we may walk in his paths.” It seems knowing where we’re headed should demand from us an appropriate response. The image of God’s mountain might keep us focused on a greater truth. “Let us walk in the light of the Lord!” Mindfulness should affect the way we think and the way we live, or we are just as clueless as before. We celebrate Thanksgiving once a year to remind us to be thankful every day. We observe Advent to keep us watchful and alert every day for Jesus’ return. It matters little whether the Christmas tree is up or not; whether the presents are wrapped and the cards are sent or not. Not one bit. Cheers.
Rolo B Castillo © 2016