How is your supply of Christmas cheer doing these days? Mine is in rather short supply.
Every year around this time I grouse about the Christmas ads in September and the Christmas music in October, the carefully crafted marketing intended to prompt a Pavlovian response of debt-fueled consumerism.
William Wordsworth wrote, “The world is too much with us; late and soon,/ Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers.” Getting and spending, that is par for the course during what passes for Advent in our society. But this year I’m focused on “the world is too much with us.”
I want very much to be in a positive frame of mind since, generally speaking, we Americans are — so the world thinks — naively and sunnily optimistic. Ah, if only it were so.
No, the world is too much with me. Our politics are in shambles. We’ve taken the two-party system and turned it into World War I and trench warfare. No one trusts anyone, and whoever I might be for or against, I have grown weary of the endless and inconclusive battles.
Our Church seems often to be no better. Once it was only fundamentalist bigots who made hyperbolic charges about Catholics. Today, we do it ourselves. With the energy Catholics once expended missionizing continents and building cathedrals, we now expend berating each other. Who needs the Inquisition? We have social media. We are all little popes now, self-bestowed with the gift of infallibility.
And in my chosen profession of journalism, we are watching the deconstruction of an entire industry, with newspapers collapsing and opinion replacing reporting. Hedge funds gobble up profitable enterprises, plunder the assets to reward investors and discard the human beings like so much slag from a strip mine.
Everywhere I turn, “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity,” as W.B. Yeats wrote. We increasingly resemble this remark.
And yet here we are in Advent, slouching toward Bethlehem. For four weeks, we travel with Mary and Joseph. The Church invites us to slow our pace, setting aside all that disturbs us and calming our unquiet hearts. Can we do it?
“Come, let us climb the Lord’s mountain,” Isaiah says in week one. Let us beat our swords into plowshares. Indeed, this is the time when we “throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light,” in Paul’s words.
Isaiah predicts in week two that when the Messiah comes, “the wolf shall be the guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid.” We are living in the age of the Messiah, and Paul urges us to “think in harmony with one another” so that with one voice we can glorify God.
In week three, Isaiah promises that “the desert and the parched land will exult.” Our souls seem barren now, but James writes that we “must be patient.” He urges us not to complain about one another “that you may not be judged.” It may feel at times that this will take more patience than is possible, yet James urges us to be strong “because the coming of the Lord is at hand.”
And in week four, if we have heeded the words of the apostles and prophets, we are assured that “the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son,” and he will “save his people from their sins.”
The Advent liturgies are speaking to us, if only we have ears to hear their messages of reform and hope. So let us put down our brickbats and stay away from our keypads. At least until New Year’s.
Erlandson, director and editor-in-chief of Catholic News Service, can be reached at [email protected].