Sunday, December 14, 2003

It’s Time to Reprogram the Computer!

The 'Computer'

(Third Sunday of Advent (C): This homily was given on December 14, 2003 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I. Read Philippians 4: 4-7; Luke 3: 10-18.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Third Sunday of Advent 2003]

It was Thanksgiving Day, and I panicked.

I admit it, I panicked.

I was driving to my sister’s house in Barrington—listening to yet another Christmas song on the radio—and the thought suddenly occurred to me, “I don’t have all my Christmas shopping done yet! Oh my word! I’m in big trouble!”

For a split second, I was seized with a horrible sense of fear—as if I had just fallen off a cliff and was plummeting to the earth at warp speed!

But then I took a deep breath, and composed myself. And at that instant, a light went on and I suddenly saw things clearly.

All of which made me extremely angry—because in that moment I realized something: I realized that I had allowed my computer to be programmed by the world. (I’m not talking here about my computer over in the rectory, I’m talking about the one between my ears!)

Glory be to God, why was I panicking about my Christmas shopping when Christmas was a month away?

It’s because the world had programmed me to panic, that’s why! The fact is, since late October I had been seeing Christmas displays in department stores and holiday advertisements on TV; since early November I had been hearing Christmas songs on the radio! Since early November!

Subconsciously, it seemed like Christmas was right around the corner, even though it wasn’t.

My mental computer desperately needed to be reprogrammed. And I dare say that at this point in the Advent season, your mental computer probably has the same need. You see it’s very easy for all of us to be affected—especially in December—by the commercialism, the materialism, and the secularism of our contemporary American culture. Which explains in part why so many people are miserable at this time of year! They have allowed the world to “program” them such that they’re focused almost exclusively on themselves and on “externals”: gifts, parties, decorations, cooking, shopping. And that ultimately leaves them depressed and empty (especially if they’re trying to cope with a personal trial or suffering at the same time!). Then this season—which should be filled with hope and joy—becomes a terrible burden!

So obviously we need to be aware of the many harmful ideas that the world is trying to put into our “computer” during these weeks before Christmas. We need to be aware of them so that we can “delete” them before they cause any permanent damage.

Let me focus on 3 of these evil, erroneous ideas during this homily—3 of the most common, and the most dangerous.

#1) Jesus doesn’t matter. In fact, he might be offensive to some people, so we should avoid even mentioning his name in public at this time of year.

Have you heard that message? It’s literally all over the place. It’s in every town where it’s against the law to have a crèche display. It’s in those public schools where you can sing Jewish songs and Islamic songs but not Christmas carols. It’s in the Meriden, Connecticut public library. Officials there refused recently to allow 5 paintings of Jesus to be displayed in their facility, saying they were “inappropriate” and “offensive.” One of those paintings was of our Lord’s birth.

Of course, this message that Jesus doesn’t matter also comes to us in far more subtle ways. Believe it or not, it even comes to us on Christmas wrapping paper! Do you know, my brothers and sisters, how difficult it is to find wrapping paper at this time of year with anything religious on it? It’s almost impossible! You can find wrapping paper with wreaths on it, and candy canes on it, and big, fat Santa Clauses all over it—but it’s very, very, very hard to find Christmas wrapping paper with an image of Jesus Christ on it! I know because I’ve tried! I try every year! And it’s his birthday! You won’t even find the words “Merry Christmas” on most Christmas wrapping paper. “Seasons Greetings” is about the best you can hope for. Now tell me that makes sense!

The world wants us to forget about Jesus.

To which we need to say, “No way! He’s the “reason for the season.” He is the one we believe to be the Savior, and this is HIS birthday we’re celebrating!!! You don’t have to join in; it’s a free country: you can choose to spend December 25 sitting at home reading books written by famous atheists—that’s your prerogative—but let’s be honest as a culture about the event that’s being commemorated here! That’s all we Christians want: honesty!”

Which brings us to erroneous idea #2: Advent isn’t important. This, incidentally, was the lie that was responsible for my little “panic episode” on Thanksgiving Day. You see, for the world, there is no Advent!

The world goes right into the “Christmas mode.” It used to start in late November; now it starts sometime in late October. I never remember hearing Christmas carols on the radio before Thanksgiving Day. This year I was hearing them at the beginning of November. You know that old expression, “Christmas in July”? At the rate we’re going, there will come a day when that will no longer be a joke!

Advent is a time of preparation—and it’s given to us by the Church because we need it! To really appreciate the Lord’s birth, we need to spend some time pondering its meaning (at least 4 weeks!): Why did he come? What did that event mean for humanity? What does that event mean for me, now, in the year 2003?

Notice—in today’s Gospel text, we hear once again about John the Baptist. John was sent for preparation.

Through the message of John, the Lord was getting his people ready to receive their Savior. As John himself said in this text from Luke 3, he was baptizing with water, to prepare the people for the one who would soon baptize them in the Holy Spirit.

If you think about it, John’s ministry was a lot like the season of Advent.

And, of course, when he preached, John called the people to repentance! He challenged them to make concrete, positive changes in their lives. Tax collectors and soldiers were challenged in today’s Gospel. John the Baptist knew that if men and women truly repented of their sins, they would be more open to Jesus and his message. They would be better prepared to receive their Messiah.

This is why the Church encourages us to go to Confession during the season of Advent: so that we will be more open to the blessings of Christmas and the Christmas season.

(On that note, have you gone to Confession recently?)

Which brings us to erroneous idea #3: Joy comes from the outside. Get together with enough friends, have enough drinks, eat enough Christmas cookies, get enough gifts, and you’ll be happy.

Try telling that to the couple in our parish whose 2 year-old son died the other day; try telling that to the man who just lost his job; try telling that to anyone who’s currently going through a difficult time in their personal life.

If joy comes from the outside (as the world would have us believe), then people like this have no hope, because their external circumstances are not joyful at the present moment.

True joy comes from within: it comes from knowing Jesus Christ and the truth of his Gospel. If I really believe everything—and I mean EVERYTHING— that the Church teaches about Jesus and his message, then I will be able to “Rejoice always” (as St. Paul tells me to do in today’s second reading from Philippians 4), even if I’m going through a difficult time in my life. I won’t rejoice in my present circumstances (because my circumstances aren’t good), but I will be able to rejoice in the hope God gives me in spite of my present circumstances.

And so, on this 3rd Sunday of Advent, the Lord asks us to take a good look inside our mental “hard drives” to see if these—or any other false ideas of the world—have somehow wormed their way in.

And if they have, let’s resolve this morning to get our mental computers re-programmed before December 25th arrives. Believe it or not, that will be the best present that we can possibly give ourselves for Christmas.