Here on the first Sunday of Advent we stand at the gates of a new liturgical year. The liturgical year determines the dates for the celebration of feast days and the Scripture readings for those days.
Just as at any beginning, Advent provides a setting for reflection, although sounds "from the street" intrude. We don't scorn those noises that coincide with Advent; successful living requires that we recognize them and go about our way.
In the world outside the Church, on the street, a resolute vocabulary dominates the weeks of the season of Advent. . . . Season of Advent you say? Gone! Replaced by the Season of Giving.
We can concede the subtle charm of the expression, Season of Giving. It has a generous sound like something Jesus might have said; however reflection readily reveals its other face - which we can identify as the Season of Buying.
'May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all.'
1 Thessalonians 3.12
My suspicions of the weak connection between the Season of Giving and the mood of thanksgiving and anticipation that Advent sought arose when an advertisement proposed that I might express my affection for other people dear to me by giving them, with admirable tenderness, a lighter for their outdoor barbecue.
A particular aspect of this blurring of the meaning of Advent, the Season of Giving and the Season of Buying troubles me something sore.
Think of the appeals of charitable organizations. Canada has something like 80,000 registered charitable organizations and I have proof. It seems that each one of them has my name and address on its computer.
They make their appeals with a refinement something like this: A regular annual general appeal, a summer appeal and another to coincide with the Season of Giving.
As if to question my altruism or generosity, the appeal package often includes something called a "free gift": a pen, a personalized notepad, a sheet of address labels, a calendar, or a package of cards and envelopes. Each such bundle carries a subtle obligation - a characteristic of the "free" gift.
I honour and respect these organizations and their dedication to their particular mission and I support some, but their appeals during the Season of Giving cause a tightening of my lips.
Nevertheless, we do have a reality in the acknowledgement of this Season of Giving. It invites the working of our faith in Jesus and what he taught.
The words associated with the Season of Giving have a restlessness about them: Buy, shop, fun, eat. By way of contrast, consider the words characterizing each of the Sundays of Advent - hope, faith, joy and love. They offer a refuge and serenity.
Like the tranquil words in the Psalm for this day, they soothe the spirit: "Make me to know your ways, O Lord, teach me your paths" and Paul's words to the Thessalonians, "May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all. . . ."
(Ralph Himsl: firstname.lastname@example.org)