EDITORIAL: Advent, penance and the glory of Christmas

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Life is short — the years and decades, peopled with children and loved ones, recede into history before we have time to properly savor them . We know this — we feel the occasional pangs of life slipping through our fingers. But just for good measure, the church reminds us again, even as we prepare to celebrate Christmas.

Why? Why do the Scripture passages of the past few weeks speak so often of the end of our earthly lives and of our coming face-to-face with our maker? If ever there were a time when the church might soften her tone it seems now would be appropriate.

While there’s no greater champion of Christmas joy than the Catholic Church, her celebration is not born of sappy sentimentality or materialistic desires. She calls us to approach the Nativity with clear eyes and a sober mind. Emmanuel is with us for a reason. While the Incarnation of God as a human baby is comforting, it also comes with a weighty price. In fact, it will cost us more than we can imagine.

Christmas is about the remaking of humankind. Christ is born as the antidote for a people that are broken by sin, frustrated, lost and adrift. He came to heal and restore, even though it leads him to the whip, a thorny crown and a wooden cross.

And though he paid the price and finished the work of our salvation, he also calls us to take up our own crosses, share in his suffering and follow him in the work of sanctification.

Advent is not officially listed as a penitential season of the church’s liturgical year, but it does have a light penitential sense about it. The church is reminding us that this beautiful moment in salvation history is the beginning of a great voyage. We are invited to step aboard, knowing full well that we must lay aside all hindrances to the mission. It will not be easy, but strangely the burden seems lighter as we abandon ourselves to the Captain of this ship.

In preparing our hearts to celebrate Christ’s birth, let us use Advent to remember the weight and glory of this blessed moment.

Merry Christmas indeed!

The writer is editor of the Catholic Anchor, the newspaper and news website for the Archdiocese of Anchorage, Alaska.

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