By Fr. Jim Smith, C.PP.S.
On vacation in Rome a few weeks ago, I took a day trip up to Assisi. Though I brilliantly took the bus to the top of Assisi and planned to walk down the hill for my visit, I missed a few stops and had to walk back up the hill to retrace the spots I missed. Sitting at the train station waiting to head back to the Tiburtina station in Rome, I felt like many do after five or six hours of American Gladiator-worthy Christmas shopping at a local mall—defeated, exhausted, and anticipating the chance to sit down and not stand up for a long time. With a half dozen trains arriving or departing before my train arrived, a number of travelers passed around me. A mother and her two children stopped to check arrivals and departures. Both under the age of six, the two kids became fascinated by the announcement as soon as a train arrived: “This is Assisi.” Within minutes, they began marching around the station, loudly stating the same announcement over and over again: “This is Assisi! This is Assisi!”
I’m reminded of those little children when I think of today’s announcement at the beginning of Advent this year. Today’s Gospel is not what we expect—we don’t leap into a baby shower invitation or flowery imagery of preparations for the birth of Jesus. Instead, we get the opposite end of the Gospel of Luke. We get Jesus instructing his disciples about the coming of the Son of Man, not in the warm comfort we imagine of Christmas, but the second coming of Christ in the midst of tribulation and powers being shaken. This isn’t the cuddly feelings we get from singing “Silent Night,” but let’s not put the cart before the horse, that is, the cart of Christmas songs before the horse of the season of Advent.
Robert Hoch writes about the birth of his first child and the dangers of a cellphone in the hands of a parent: “After our first daughter was born, I sent pictures to my parents. One picture showed their granddaughter slick with fresh-from-the-womb blood. My father complained: ‘Couldn’t you have cleaned her up first?’”1 The announcement of Advent this year isn’t cleaned up or wiped away into the polished preparation for Christmas we expect. It’s also not the “TSA-Pre-Check-Skip-to-the-Front-of-the-Line-and-Avoid-Advent-Altogether” season our culture gives us. This Advent is a season of preparation for birth: the birth of Christ we recall at Christmas and the birth of new life and new creation in our world, our Church, and our lives.
The chaos, uncertainty and anxiety around any childbirth are distinctly present today, both in the Gospel from Luke and in the world around us. God breaks into our lives and our worlds, regardless of how cleaned-up we are, or maybe precisely when we are not cleaned up. The power and glory of our God breaks into history in the birth of Jesus. The power and glory of God brings forth new life in our world and our lives. This season of Advent invites us to slow down and pause, to sit down and be attentive, and to stand up and raise our heads to see that God our justice is at hand. God our redemption is at hand. In the voice of two little children, loudly and proudly imitating the voice of a station announcer, “This is Advent! This is Advent!”
1 Robert Hoch, from “Working Preacher,” 2015. http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2692
Fr. Jim Smith, C.PP.S., is the parochial vicar of the St. Henry cluster of parishes in and around St. Henry, Ohio.