November 20, 2016
The Sunday Next before Advent
Brace yourselves: Christmas is coming.
Today is the Sunday before Black Friday, which seems to take a lessor importance in this secular world, and so our newspapers, mailboxes and inboxes will be crammed with wonderful ads luring us toward the hottest sales, gadgets and toys of the year.
I am going to pile on with the “presents bad, Jesus good” routine here, but be aware that during the next few days, the pre-Christmas advertising will be over the top. Retail desperately wants to define our holiday desires.
Families are especially targeted, what with poor little Jimmy and Jamie living an incomplete life without this year’s must-have Christmas toys. Every year the toy changes, but many of us remember the biggest hits of the past.
Barbie, Mr. Potato Head, Tinker Toys and Lincoln Logs are deep in the archives of history.
The hot toys of the ’60s were Spirograph, G.I. Joe, Lite-Brite and Hot Wheels race cars.
In the ’70s, LEGOS and Star Wars figures left all other toys in the dust, while Barbie continued to dominate the little-girl market. Video games appeared in 1977, as the Atari 2600 left kids — and parents — fixated on Video Pong, Breakout and Pitfall.
The ’80s brought us the Rubik’s Cube, Cabbage Patch Kids, Transformers and Pound Puppies.
The’90s offered GameBoys, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Pokémon and Beanie Babies. But Tickle Me Elmo dominated the decade. Maybe you remember the hysteria when stores ran out of stock of Furbies.
In the new millennium, the Wii, Xbox and PlayStation video-game systems took over the Christmas market. But aluminum scooters, Dora the Explorer, Harry Potter and Elmo-Doing-Anything-Depending-on-the-Year made nondigital splashes.
They were simple days when all we wanted for Christmas was — cash!
But today, hockey players would blush at the brutality with which parents go after “this year’s hot Christmas toy” for junior. It seems as though every year a parent brawl at Toys “R” Us makes headlines. Remember the reports of parents trampling each other or offering $1,000 bribes to get a Cabbage Patch Kid? The Tickle Me Elmo rage created mob scenes reminiscent of Depression-era bank runs.
Can you begin to imagine a world where parents showed equal passion to secure emotional well-being and spiritual development for their kids? “My bad!” for even mentioning it.
Although Christmas is still a month out and Advent a week away, Black Friday advertising will be pushing the concept of Christmas gifts — good and bad ones – right now. Three weeks ago, actually! So this is a great time to allow Scripture to bring us some balance.
Instead of merely developing our Christmas wish-lists, what about focusing on a Christ-wish list?
Note that I didn’t say, “Rather than making a Christmas wish-list.” We aren’t bashing Christmas giving here, although that might be an appropriate topic another time. For this week’s reading, we’re suggesting we develop a Christ-wish list. And the gifts we might hope to receive can be found right here in Colossians 1.
The Gift of Strength
“May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power”. God offers an ongoing gift that accompanies us in living out our lives here and now: his power making us strong. God will strengthen us in places of our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9) and in our inner lives (Ephesians 3:16).
God wants us engaged with and dependent on him when anxiety, depression, stress, doubt, frustration, cynicism and bitterness – all which pose a war against who he wants us to be.
God’s invisible power brings us interior strength. We believe it’s available to us by faith so we might experience it in tangible reality.
U2’s Bono shared a line in the song “Moment of Surrender” that has been his spiritual mantra for years: “vision over visibility.” It’s an insistence on looking past what you can see and into what could be — what you believe to be true.
That’s Christianity. But more specifically, it’s the way toward being made strong with God’s power.
The Gift of Patience
“May you be prepared to endure everything with patience”.
Control freaks will recoil at this idea, but the reality is that we have no idea what’s coming next in life. Sadly, lottery winning has ridiculous odds, and surprise parties happen only once or twice. That means the unexpected is almost always bad news.
Cancer in a loved one. Being laid off from work. Getting sideswiped and injured in a car accident. Being betrayed by a trusted friend.
We never plan for these times, so we’re rarely prepared for them. The only thing we can bring to the table at that point is the character we’ve developed beforehand.
That’s why Paul prays that we’d be prepared to endure everything with patience and with virtue that can weather the unexpected. It’s a God-granted gift we partner in cultivating, and it carries us through the unforeseen.
To walk life’s trials in a way that honors God is like navigating a balance beam. Both sides have easy drop-offs. Complaining. Hopelessness. Anger. Self-absorption. But staying upright and making it requires the balance of godly patience, of which many of us struggle to have.
The Gift of Joyful Gratitude
“Joyfully giving thanks to the Father”.
Joy and gratitude, like patience, are more developed attitudes than momentary emotions. Emotions come from our brains, but these attitudes have been forged from our souls.
Paul is seeing fruit slowly born in the Colossians over time. But it’s almost as if he has an inkling. It’s gone well thus far, but things could go array. He’s seen too much persecution and warfare against other churches.
Paul wants to call out a godly attitude in them that can combat the difficulties of the spiritual life. So he prays that their joyful gratitude toward God would expand — for what he’s already done and what we’ll need him for down the line.
If asked, is there a single Christian who wouldn’t wish to be more joyful? More grateful toward God? Experience the depth of these attitudes from a soul level?
So let’s join Paul in praying for these qualities. Let’s learn to live out of our hearts. Let’s strive far more toward a joyful and grateful soul than we do toward bringing joy to the kids with the Elmo-Transforms-Into-Harry-Potter doll.
By the way, whatever the toy of choice is this year, it’ll be on eBay for $600 this Saturday.
After verse 12, Paul leaves his prayer wish-list for the saints and starts waxing Christological. But if we look at the implications of these Christ descriptions, they point us toward many other things to ask God for.
The Gift of the Giver
“He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything”.
Here’s something we should long for: a surprise gift. That rare gift you receive that you didn’t know to ask for but was exactly what you wanted.
Christ possesses the first place in everything. He is priority one.
Borrowing a liberating idea from Os Guinness’ The Call, we only ever live life before “an audience of One.” That means we owe no allegiance to other forces or public opinions — the boss, the neighbors, the hot trends, the magazine images of beauty, the people we feel the pressure to impress, the must-have Christmas gifts.
From a whole of lives, we don’t answer to them. They don’t define us. They can’t change our souls.
We answer only to Christ the firstborn. Our lives are a play acted before an audience of One. And then we realize that the Giver of all the above-mentioned gifts has given himself as the Gift: “Through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things”.
Reconciliation. The complex Greek word carries the idea of restoring things completely. After an original state of harmony has been corrupted, reconciliation brings it back.
God was pleased to do this. And “all things” means no person or story is outside of the hope of change. No situation is too irreparable for God.
With all that Paul wishes for Christians and everything else we find in this Christ-text to encourage our own prayers, maybe this is atop the list: Coming into Advent and the Christmas season, we can know, experience and extend the reconciliation of Jesus Christ. Is there anything better to ask for?
Let us pray.
Father God, as we approach one of the most Holy seasons of the year, help us to draw the season into better moments of strength, patience, joyful gratitude, giving the gift of the Giver.
Our life will now be drawn into a secular celebration of a Holy time and we will be wildly distracted and pulled by so many things. Let us take the better part and sit at the feet of Your Son and listen to Him who is to come into this world in resurgence in a month’s time. We are so busy preparing things in our houses, that we have forgotten the better part.
Father, as this season approaches, we ask that You help us surrender our moments of anxiety, depression, stress, doubt, frustration, cynicism and bitterness. We fully know that none of which we can surrender by mere thought, but only in placing our trust in Christ our Lord, who will send the Holy Spirit to guide us in all things with greater strength, patience, joyful gratitude and in being a gift of the Giver. We ask all this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, Ca.