Prepare the Way for Christ: Advent, Christmas and the New Evangelization

12/18/2011

Each year the Church gives us this joyful season of Advent to help us prepare spiritually for Christ’s coming. Advent is one of my favorite seasons of the year. It is also one of the most challenging. For Catholics, the focus of this season looks beyond the busyness of shopping, putting up decorations and making the rounds of parties. While our lives do tend to get busier than ever during this time of year, the true spirit of Advent invites us to slow down, to become re-flective, and to tap into that deepest longing of our hearts which only the coming of Christ can fully satisfy.

 In contrast to the instant communication and gratification of our digital culture, Advent invites us to slow down and to wait. We await Christ’s coming into our world. To keep Advent well requires a deliberate effort on our part. It calls us to be counter-cultural in some small but important ways. It calls us to recognize that our salvation is not something we can produce or purchase or download, but something that is given by God. It must be received in faith.

In a few days we will celebrate the joyful feast of Jesus’ birth. At Christmas we welcome Christ Our Savior by offering him a worthy dwelling place in our hearts and homes. But as Christians we not only welcome him into our hearts, we are also called to bring him to the world. Faith in Jesus Christ is a gift to be received and shared. Our faith is not merely a private refuge. Indeed, faith brings a profoundly personal experience of God’s love, healing and direction to our lives. But the Gospel has social and public implications as well. Jesus came to save the world from sin and hopelessness and to inaugurate his Kingdom of justice, love and truth. His Gospel proclaims liberty for captives, sight for the blind. His coming is good news and it is intended for all. Each of us has a personal role in bringing the Gospel, the joyful news of Christ’s coming and of his saving death and resurrection, to the world in which we live. Each of us are called to be evangelizers.

Like his immediate predecessors, Pope Benedict XVI has called the whole Church to a renewed commitment to evangelization. To give support to this urgent task of the whole Church, the Holy Father will convene in 2012 a synod of bishops to address the challenge of the New Evangelization. The special focus of this latest evangelizing effort in the long history of the Church’s mission, while not excluding those who have never heard the Gospel, will focus on re-evangelizing those parts of the world where faith has grown cold. Its focus will be especially on the secularized culture that has excluded God, marginalized and privatized faith, or rejected God outright. This is the culture in which we live.

Just as the pagan culture into which Jesus sent the Apostles almost 2,000 years ago often dismissed the Gospel as foolishness, and just as his own people often found it a stumbling block, so our culture pre-sents considerable obstacles for those who undertake its re-evangelization. The thing that we must bear in mind, however, is that the ultimate success of every effort at evangelization does not depend ultimately on the one who sows the seed, or even on the quality of the soil where the seed is sown, but on the inherent power of the seed itself, that is, the Word of God. It is God who produces the harvest. God uses our voice and our testimony, but it is God who brings forth the fruit.

For those who are willing and eager to take on the challenge of the New Evangelization, what is most necessary is a firm faith in the truth of the message they proclaim and in the One who guarantees its truth and power. Jesus guarantees the triumph of the Kingdom, which though sown like a tiny mustard seed, will ultimately become a great tree in which all creatures will find refuge.