If you ever want to note how out of step the Church's readings are from mainstream culture, you need look no further than today's readings.
Let's think about our culture. Although some stores seem to have put out Christmas decorations in October, so that witches and cobwebs fought with reindeer and snow globes, we are now not surprised to see and hear the sounds of Christmas. If you listen carefully, though, the decorations and music that entice us into stores, the smells of cinnamon and clove that try to remind us of the warmth of the family kitchen...they carry with them a message.
23 days until Christmas! 16 days until Christmas! Buy now before it's too late!
The church of consumerism, whose high priests are marketing agents, sure know how to spin a deal, how to hawk their wares, how to make us anxious about potentially not being prepared for Christmas. And so, we buy. We buy early and often. Our journey toward Christmas is not a hopeful journey but, rather often, one fraught with anxiety over whether one has bought the right gives, will receive the right gifts, will have the house cleaned on time.
It's just that, the image of preparedness they sell and expect us to buy is measured in the end by mounds of wrapping paper and bills that come in January.
In Paul's letter to the Romans and in Matthew's Gospel, we hear quite a different story. Paul and Jesus both encourage us to be alert, to be ready. They know that we are in a period of Advent, a time of approach. Where our commercial society tells us that we are prepared if we are ready to give gifts, the Bible counters by reminding us that we are ready only when we are prepared to receive grace, when we can open ourselves to and welcome the coming of the Holy One.
The liturgical season of Advent - just a few short weeks - reminds us explicitly what it means to live a Christian life. We are to be the people who, in each day, are mindful of the present and are able and willing to open our houses, to open our hearts, to King of Kings. We need not buy a red carpet, or purchase expensive glasses to make him feel welcome: the human heart and all that is in it are quite sufficient.
As we begin this journey of Advent, we might wish to reflect on a question. Which gives me more energy and calls me into action: the constant refrains from stores to buy, buy, buy - or - the promise of Scripture that the Holy One is coming, is coming into our lives, and nothing we can buy can coax him into our lives. We can but open our hearts and lives and say "Welcome."