By Bishop Kevin J. Farrell
Publisher of The Texas Catholic
Harvest festivals are found in many cultures offering thanks for abundant crops. Pentecost was such a celebration of Thanksgiving as was the Pilgrim’s celebration in 1621 that has been identified as the first Thanksgiving in North America.
For us today, Thanksgiving has little to do with a harvest festival, although we still use the harvest symbols of pumpkins and gourds, but we are celebrating God’s abundance in our lives. We celebrate faith, hope, life itself, and gifts that sustain us.
We celebrate family, the sacrifices of our parents, the love shared with spouses, brothers and sisters and the gift of friendship. It is in the loving relationship with family and friends that God’s love is frequently revealed to us. We become acutely aware of these gifts on Thanksgiving even though our friends and family may be far away or at home with God.
An important part of Thanksgiving is sharing our abundance, not only with friends and family, but with those less fortunate than ourselves. Donate food or money to a food bank, make a gift to Catholic Charities or volunteer to help serve a Thanksgiving meal to the homeless. The greatest gift we have to share is ourselves.
Let us join together this Thanksgiving to: “Give thanks to the Lord for He is good and His mercy endures forever.”
A time of expectation
Advent is a time of expectation, a time of watching, waiting and listening. In the readings for the first Sunday of Advent, Isaiah reminds us of the importance of listening to the Lord as he reassures a besieged King Ahaz of Judah that: “In days to come, the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest mountain and raised above the hills. All nations shall stream toward it.”(2:1)
He is promising a time of justice and peace to a troubled Kingdom of Judah and speaking the first of his several prophecies of the coming of the Messiah. But, note, it is also a warning to Ahaz to put his trust in God rather than pagan alliances. Scripture indicates that Ahaz did not really want to hear God’s message because he thought he had a better idea. There is a little of Ahaz in each of us when we are impatient and tempted to choose our wisdom over the Lord’s
Paul echoes Isaiah’s alert: “You know the time; it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep…the night is advanced, the day is at hand. Let us then throw off the works of darkness [and] put on the armor of light.” (Rom 13:11-12) It is as though Paul is speaking to us saying: “Don’t just stand there; get moving.”
It is so easy to become locked in lethargy feeling as Paul says earlier in his letter to the Romans, “What I do, I do not understand. For I do not do what I want, but I do what I hate.”(7:14) Advent is a time to get ready…the Lord is coming. At the end of a frantic fall, we all need a wakeup call to rouse us from our spiritual torpor and prepare for the coming of the Lord.
In the Gospel, Matthew repeats the message loud and clear when he warns, “Stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come. ..So too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.” (Matt 24:42, 44)
Clearly the message is that our confidence must be in the Lord not in the passing promise of the world for as the Psalmist wrote: “My soul, be at rest in God alone, from whom comes my hope.” (Psalm 62:6)
Prepare the way
The readings for the Second Sunday of Advent begin with another of Isaiah’s wonderful messianic prophecies (Isaiah 11:1-10) about which a book could easily be written. It predicts the rise of the new and perfect king from the “stump of Jesse,” the ancestor from whom the Davidic kings are descended and promises that “the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him.” The passage describing the gifts he will receive from the Spirit, (Is 11:2) wisdom, understanding, counsel, strength and fear of the Lord, is seen as the Scriptural basis of the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Isaiah then foresees a time of justice and peace during the reign of the great king “Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat; The calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them.”(Is 11:6) God’s promise spoken by Isaiah applies to us also. We too live in a time of confusion and uncertainty and need strengthening of our confidence in God’s plan.
Paul then speaks of seeking encouragement in the Scriptures and God’s charge to “think in harmony with one another, in keeping with Christ Jesus.”(Rom 15:4, 6) In this passage, Paul certainly echoes with us today when there is such disharmony and discord among Jesus’ disciples and we need to be reminded of a oneness in Jesus and welcome one another as Jesus welcomes us.
Finally, Matthew recalls the words of John the Baptist, the forerunner who hearkens back to Second Isaiah’s words of consolation and promise to the Jews languishing in exile in Babylon. “A voice of one crying out in the desert, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, and make straight his paths.’ Now is the time to prepare the way of the Lord in our hearts…for he is coming.”
How do we prepare the way of the Lord? By remembering that Christmas is about God becoming one of us, by celebrating Jesus’ birth with God’s poor, the Anawim, in mind and recalling that blessings are more important than gifts.
Bishop Kevin J. Farrell is the seventh bishop of Dallas. Read his blog at bishopkevinfarrell.org.