❝For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.❞ Matthew 25:35-36
Reflection by Gary McCorvey
As a child, I attended a Christian church that did not adhere to any liturgical calendar. It was the church of my daddy’s side of the family. When I became an adult and my parents were divorced, I attended the church of my mama’s side of the family. It was here I first learned something about a liturgical calendar. My mama lived to age 93 and always had an Advent wreath after she was “free” to do so.
So what is Advent? A little research turns up some “warm and fuzzy” lists like this:
- Will we not only be ready to receive family and friends this season, but Christ as well?
- Will we not only have gifts for our family, but the gift of time for our Lord?
- Advent is a time of preparing for Christmas, but it isn’t just a countdown to the big day. We are preparing for Jesus’ coming. If Christmas were tomorrow, would we be ready?
In this checklist I found for “Ways to Prepare Your Heart for Christmas,” I wonder if this is the way we should welcome the Baby Jesus?
- Read one of the daily readings each day or a few times a week.
- Do something nice for somebody–just because.
- Pray for the living and the deceased.
- Go to confession.
- Attend worship services and special programs at church.
- Spend time in adoration.
- Read the Christmas story in the Bible.
But, folks, we don’t live in a “warm and fuzzy” world. Many Christians get upset because stores put Christmas decorations and gifts on sale before Halloween. Others get upset because some stores won’t let their employees say “Merry Christmas” but insist on them saying “Happy Holidays.” This year, apparently lot of Christians even got upset because Starbucks is using a plain red cup as its “holiday season” cup instead of something saying “Merry Christmas.” Is this the way we Christians deliver the message of “Welcome, Baby Jesus” in this cold and hard world of today by being “cold and hard” ourselves? Trying to answer that question led me to the following verses of scripture:
“A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you MUST love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, IF you love one another.” (John 13:34)
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment, and the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39)
I had previously come to the conclusion that these words of Jesus mean, at a minimum, that to say “I love God” without truly loving my neighbor is a lie, for I believe the only way to demonstrate my love for and to God is to love my neighbor, just as God loves me; that is, in spite of my faults and my neighbor’s faults–unconditionally, warts and all. These verses led me to how I should approach Advent.
Although I have put many people in jail or prison as a prosecutor and a judge, I have NEVER visited anyone in jail or prison, other than as their lawyer and because I was being paid to represent them. Visiting them was necessary to prepare their defense; nothing more. Similarly, I haven’t done so hot on feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty, taking care of the sick, welcoming the stranger, or clothing the naked throughout my life either. With this track record, for me to stand up and piously say “Welcome, Baby Jesus” rings hollow indeed.
What better time than this Advent season, the beginning of the new year in the Church, to REALLY use the instructions left by Jesus himself, for the way he wants to be welcomed. The best, and only, checklist for saying “Welcome, Baby Jesus” in this cold and hard world. It has taken me a long time to get the message.