Showing posts with label advent. Show all posts
Showing posts with label advent. Show all posts

Are you a commercial for Christ?

John 1:6-8, 19-28 (3rd week of Advent, year b)

Advertizing is all around us, particularly as we prepare for Christmas. Television is full of commercials. Open a newspaper and there is advertizing everywhere. Whether it be on the side of the road, at bus stops or on the skytrain, billboards are all over the place. According to a conservative estimate, the average North American is exposed to 250 commercials - also called marketing messages - each and every day. Ads are so common that sometimes we can forget their power to influence us.

The purpose of commercials and advertising is to kindle a desire within our hearts for the promoted product. For this reason, advertisers try to put their products in the best possible light, showing their most appealing aspects. It goes without saying that advertising does not dwell on the negative aspects of what is being sold, this would not entice people to buy it! For example, a commercial for a hamburger will focus on how delicious it would be to eat, rather than the fact that it is bad for our health. A travel brochure for a vacation destination will show pictures of all the most beautiful beaches and locations rather than the dirty and rougher neighbourhoods. Advertizing for cars will focus on how fun it is to drive or try to convince you that if you buy it your life will suddenly be more successful and adventurous life. It won’t say much about the danger associated with driving or the negative effect it has on the environment. Good advertising is able to make us desire to have the product it promotes.

Our lives are meant to be commercials for Jesus. People should see the way that we act and speak and, knowing that we are Christians, should have a desire grow within them to become followers of Jesus as well. But, you object, it sounds a little crass when we speak about advertizing for Jesus. Perhaps you think it is impolite and unCanadian to push our beliefs or religion on others. To this, I say that we should not be shy to advertize for Jesus! We tolerate so much advertising in our lives for products that are ultimately disappointing. Things are never as good as they appear in a commercial. With Jesus, it’s just the opposite. He is always better than we can describe with our words. Further, Jesus is the only thing that can satisfy the human heart. He is the only “product” that will never disappoint. In the end, He is the one thing in the world worth advertizing!

In fact, we often talk about advertizing for Jesus, we just don’t use that world. The “churchier” words we use to describe the advertizing we do for Jesus are witness and testimony. In the gospel, we heard how John the Baptist came to be a witness and give testimony for Jesus. He did this by what he said and by how he lived. With his words he led people away from himself and towards Jesus. His words had weight because of the good, virtuous life that he lived. His life is an incredibly effective commercial for Jesus. Our way of living should do the same. Sometimes we are not good witnesses and our lives do not entice people to follow Jesus. For example, when we are bitter, unforgiving, selfish, cruel, dishonest and speak crudely, people will rightly think to themselves, “if this is what is means to be a follower of Jesus, then I want no part of it.” On the other hand, when we are joyful, honest, generous, peaceful and kind people will think to themselves “it seems that knowing Jesus really does make a difference, I want that in my life, so I need to come to know Jesus.” Our lives are supposed to be good commercials for Jesus.

One important way we give witness is by how we use our voices during Mass. What comes out of our mouths while in Church is a commercial for our faith - either good or bad. I always love celebrating Mass for the school children at the school. Above all, I am struck by one thing: their singing! By the way that they sing with enthusiasm, the students make an incredible witness. If newcomers were to walk into the Church and hear them for the first time, they would think that they really want to be at Mass, that Mass is something important and that they want to praise God with joy. Hearing them, makes you want to join in!  On the other hand, what type of message does it send when people do not participate in the singing at Mass? If people were to walk into a Church for the first time and hear half-hearted, joy-less singing, what would they think? Probably that what goes on inside the Church isn’t too important and that those present don’t really want to be there. Would a visitor want to be part of community that is lacking in joy? No way. Let’s consider what our participation in the singing at Mass, as individuals and as a community, says about us. This is a very timely as we approach Christmas. At the Christmas Masses many come who don’t regularly attend Mass. We have an incredible opportunity to witness simply by our singing. Hopefully those who attend the Christmas Masses will be encouraged to return more regularly! I realize that not everyone is talented when it comes to singing. On the one hand, some people sing loudly who should probably be singing more softly! On the other hand, most of us can sing with more enthusiasm. Pope Francis has recently encouraged us to overcome our embarrassment and hesitation and sing more during Mass. It does not matter, he said, if we are good singers. It is impossible to imagine that “you are able to shout when your team scores a goal and you cannot sing the Lord’s praises, and leave behind your composure a bit to sing.”

During Advent, we tend to focus on what we are doing to help prepare ourselves to welcome Jesus at Christmas. This Sunday, let us ask a different question: what are you doing to help others welcome Jesus into their heart at Christmas? Like John the Baptist, are you a good witness by what you say and act?  In particular, today we can consider how well we participate in the singing at the Mass. Is the way you use your voice at Mass an appealing commercial that leads people closer to Jesus?

Why waiting is good for us

We have all probably had the experience of waiting in an airport arrival room, patiently expecting the return of a loved one from a long trip. I have a clear memory from when I was a child waiting at the airport to pick up my mom who had been away for awhile. Though I did miss her while she was away, it was not until I was in the waiting room that I realized how much I missed her. I couldn't wait to see her. I realized then how important she was to me and that there was a bit of hole in my life when she was gone. Our experience of Advent should be like anticipating the return of loved one at the airport.

Waiting for Jesus to come at Christmas should make us realize that He is an utterly necessary part of our lives. Mark’s gospel begins this way: The beginning of the good news (or gospel) of Jesus Christ the Son of God. For the initial audience of this document, 1st century Jews, the words “good news” were very loaded. The phrase would have reminded them of the Jewish captivity in Babylon (597 - 539 BC), in which their people were forcibly removed from their homeland and held in slavery in Babylon. The good news - or gospel - of this historic event was when they were freed by Cyrus the Great and permitted to return to Israel. Jews understood that through Cyrus, God freed them from slavery and returned them to their home. When Mark explains that his document is about the good news of Jesus Christ, Jews realized that it was the account of how God sent Jesus to free them from a different kind of slavery, namely sin and death, and lead them back to their true and eternal homeland with God the Father. They would have longed to encounter this salvation from Jesus. They would have realized their great need for liberation. Do we feel a similar need for Jesus in our life? Do we fully appreciate how greatly the world is in need of salvation? A quick look at all the violence, hate and greed that exists should convince us of this. Do we realize that we are all slaves to various things, namely our sinful habits? If we are honest, we all struggle with things that we cannot change. Are we fully convinced that we need Jesus to save us or do we think that we can fix ourselves and this world on our own? Would it make any difference for you if Jesus was never born some 2000 years ago? The time of waiting we experience during Advent should remind us of how important Jesus is to us personally.

We need to make space in our lives in order to properly welcome something or someone truly important into our lives. I tend to do a lot of work in the google “universe”: gmail, google docs, you name it. Recently, in the process of saving an important document, I discovered to my surprise that I had filled up my complimentary 15Gb drive in “the cloud” (whatever and wherever that is!). Since there was no way I was paying for more storage, I had to delete old files in order to make space for the new one. We all have experience of getting rid of some things to make room for something more important, whether it means erasing some shows on your PVR so that you can record a game or TV show you want to watch later or clearing out some clothes from your closet to make room for something new. In the gospel, we met the figure of John the Baptist. His role was to prepare others to receive Jesus in their lives. He did this by encouraging the people to repent from the sinful actions and wrong way of thinking about God and the world. Sin blocks Jesus’ entrance into our lives. If we are self-centered, arrogant or cruel to those around us, there is no room for Jesus in our hearts. If we truly think that we need Jesus to come as our Saviour - if we want to welcome Jesus into our lives at Christmas - we must make some attempt to prepare space for Him.

Confession is an excellent way to prepare our hearts for receiving Jesus at Christmas. Going to the Sacrament of Reconciliation is a very powerful means to “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.”  Going to confession is not easy. It can be scary and embarrassing. I experience the same thing when I go to confession. A few years ago when I was living in Tijuana, Mexico, I wanted to go to confession at the Cathedral there. At the time I could understand Spanish ok, but my speaking skills were pretty basic. Therefore, I asked around if one of the priests hearing confessions spoke English. I was told one did, so I went to confession to him. After confessing my sins, the priest told me that his English wasn’t actually that good afterall. He then proceeded to repeat back to me in Spanish all that I had confessed just so I could verify he understood we correctly. Now, if you think it is embarrassing confessing your sins, I can tell you its much more awkward having your sins repeated back to you! Regardless of how uncomfortable this or any confession is, two wonderful things - which are particularly important during Advent - always happen:
  1. We convert and have our sins forgiven, thereby preparing space in our hearts for Jesus.
  2. It is a wonderful, practical way of acknowledging our need for Jesus to come into our lives as our Saviour.

Making a good confession is one of the best ways we can get ready to welcome Jesus at Christmas. Plan to go to confession sometime during the Advent season, particularly if it has been awhile. Check with your local parish as most have added opportunities to go during the next few weeks. More details can be found on the Archdiocesan website. Sometime before Christmas, let us all make a good confession so that we can truly experience the joy that comes with the birth of our Saviour Jesus Christ.


Mark 13:33-37 (1st Sunday of Advent, year B)

(Because of an extended announcement at the Masses this Sunday, I was told to “keep the homily under two minutes”. Not an easy task for me, but I gave it a shot!)

wikicommons, Liquid 2003 
How many of us here today are truly awake? Years ago, when I was an altar server, I used to doze off at Mass pretty regularly. Now this isn’t really an option for me - too many people would notice. Jesus’ message in the Gospel is simple: be awake!

Today we begin the season of Advent. Advent - with literally mean “coming” - is the time in which we prepare our hearts for the coming of Jesus Christ in the:
  1. Past. Jesus came into the world some 2000 years ago. During Advent we recall that Christmas celebrates the event in which God became man.
  2. Future. Jesus will come again at the end of time to judge the living and the dead. During Advent, remembering this reality should have an impact on the way we live our lives today. Am I ready to meet Jesus when He comes again? What changes would I like to make in my life?
  3. Present. This is the part we too easily forget. Last Sunday we heard the parable of the king who separates the sheep from the goats. This parable taught us that whatever we do to the needy, we do to Jesus. Whatever we fail to do for the poor and marginalized, we fail to do for Jesus. We meet needy people each and every day. Therefore, Jesus comes to us each and every day.

Distraction keeps us from recognizing the presence of Christ in the needy that we daily encounter. We are asleep and we miss the coming of Jesus. Usually this slumber of distraction is not consciously induced, it sort of just happens. We can get so preoccupied in our work or school that we are blinded to the presence of Jesus in those who surround us. It is easy to get so immersed in our phones and computers that we become oblivious to other flesh and blood human beings. People in the same home begin communicating via text messages. Next time you ride the bus or skytrain, see if you can find five people who are not on their phones and are having an actual conversation with their neighbour. Even while at Mass we get distracted. We can be thinking so much about what is for lunch that we ignore the presence of Christ in the Eucharist who gives Himself as the ultimate meal. We are asleep and missing the simple, daily ways in which Jesus comes into our lives through those we encounter.

What we need is some kind of spiritual coffee. I’m sure that most of of start our day with a cup of coffee. Personally, it is difficult to face the day without it! I have a very simple suggestion for how we can try to enact Jesus’ command to “stay awake”. Each morning when you take the first sip of your coffee (or tea, or chocolate milk, or whatever) make this simple prayer: “Lord, help me to be spiritually awake today so that I do not miss the ways you enter my life”. Advent is here; it’s time to wake up!

(Ok, so maybe that’s longer than two minutes. I tried!)