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Deacon Greg Kandra is ordained and ministers in the Diocese of Brooklyn. He writes a fantastic blog, The Deacon’s Bench, at Beliefnet. His Homily for today, the First Sunday of Advent, is a stunner. It is reprinted here with Deacon Kandra’s permission.
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Homily for November 28, 2010: 1st Sunday of Advent

Anyone looking for interesting holiday recipes may have stumbled on a new word that has entered the American lexicon: “Cherpumple.” It’s a desert, created last year by Los Angeles writer Charles Phoenix – a diet-destroying, gut-busting feat of cooking that seems guaranteed to induce sugar shock.

It’s three different pies, stacked one on top of the other, and baked into one gargantuan “monster pie” with three layers – cherry, pumpkin, and apple, hence the name “cherpumple.” The recipe has swept the internet and has become a sensation on YouTube.

I showed a picture of a “cherpumple” to my wife and she agreed with me: it’s absolutely disgusting.

Some things just aren’t meant to be mashed together like that.

Deacon Greg Kandra

But I have to wonder if we haven’t done something similar with Advent and Christmas. For all intents and purposes, we have managed to create one massive season – “Chradvent” – that conflates two distinct seasons into one. And it’s starting earlier and earlier.

Hundreds of radio stations started playing Christmas music the day after Halloween – many of them all Christmas, all the time, 24/7. The week before Thanksgiving, I was amazed to walk by an apartment on 108th Street and see the lobby fully decorated, complete with a fully lit Christmas tree and wrapped gifts. Last Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, I went down to Sergei’s Barber Shop on Ascan Street for a haircut and saw workers unloading Christmas trees to sell. How anyone could expect a Christmas tree to live a month or more is a mystery to me. But people do it. I saw cars going down Queens Boulevard with trees strapped to the roof. Even before Thanksgiving, it seems, we’ve started to celebrate “Chradvent.”

Before everyone hops on that “Chradvent” bandwagon, I’d just like to take a moment to celebrate this season that so many have forgotten about – the season of Advent. We need to remember the reason for this season, and to hold on to Advent just a little while before surrendering to the craziness of “Chradvent.”

The readings today alert us to something great about to begin. The language is emphatic. Night is ending. Dawn is at hand. “Stay awake.” Put on “the armor of light.” And “let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord.” There is a sense of anticipation – the kind we celebrate at every Eucharist, when we pray that we “wait in joyful hope for the coming of our savior, Jesus Christ.” Advent is that waiting, that moment of joyful hope, lived out across four weeks.

Cherpumple

We symbolize that, and ritualize it, with the Advent wreath. But we don’t light all four candles at once. We go one at a time, so the light gathers and grows. If you have an Advent calendar, you don’t fold open every window at once, but you go one small window at a time. Later in the season, we will sing the haunting refrain, “O come, O come, Emanuel, and ransom captive Israel…” We are captives awaiting freedom, prisoners held in dungeons of despair. But light is coming. Freedom is coming.

Jesus is coming.

But until he comes, we wait, and watch, and wonder, and pray.

We shouldn’t rush it. Advent is the time for taking stock, and making plans – a season of great expectations. Dorothy Day, in fact, compared it to a woman expecting a child. “She lives in such a garment of silence,” Day wrote, “as though she were listening to hear the stir of life within her.”

That brings me to question all of us should ask during these coming weeks:

Are we listening?

Are we paying attention?

Are we looking to what will be – or are we already there?

If we jump right into the holiday season, we forget to wait, and watch, and wonder, and pray. We neglect the “joyful hope” that is so much a part of this beautiful season. When Christmas arrives, it will seem almost anti-climactic: one more day in a long litany of jingling bells and canned carols.

This year resist the urge. Wait a while to get the tree and hang the wreath. Turn down the Christmas music. It’s okay: it will be there in the middle of December, just as it was in the middle of November.

Instead, use these weeks to pull back, to retreat from the ho-ho-ho and fa-la-la-la-la. Find time to look within — to pray more deeply, and converse more intimately with the One who is coming. Ask Him: How can I prepare for you? What can I do to welcome you into my life?

If all of us do that, we may be surprised at the answer.

And we’ll actually be able to HEAR the answer if we give ourselves over to the “garment of silence” that Dorothy Day wrote about.

“Cherpumple” is over the top, and unhealthy. And so, I think, is “Chradvent.” So pull the two seasons apart, and live each of them as fully as possible.

Let’s look forward to a merry Christmas.

But let’s also use this opportunity, as well, to enjoy a blessed and holy Advent.

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This Sunday is the First Sunday of Advent, and time for me to get going on printing my Christmas cards and start sending them out early for a change. So here is this year’s card, complete with cover graphic and message inside. The graphic is a Pennsylvania Dutch Hex Sign, with the description and explanation below.

I’m sending this early to all here at Coming Home to help keep this blessed and holy season in perspective. Here’s to an Advent of fruitful spiritual introspection followed by a Christmas filled with the love of those most dear to us.

“And when we give each other Christmas gifts in His name, let us remember that He has given us the sun and the moon and the stars, and the earth with its forests and mountains and oceans–and all that lives and move upon them. He has given us all green things and everything that blossoms and bears fruit and all that we quarrel about and all that we have misused–and to save us from our foolishness, from all our sins, He came down to earth and gave us Himself.”

~Sigrid Undset

The Hex Sign

Double Trinity Tulips

The stylized tulip with its three petals is a dominate feature in Pennsylvania Dutch folk art. It is referred to as the Trinity Tulip and it symbolizes the Trinity as well as faith, hope and charity. The heart in this sign (as well as other Pennsylvania German folk art) is not the heart of sentimental “Victorian” valentines. Rather, it is religious in its representation of the heart of God, the source of all love and hope for a future life. The colors in this heart are used to give them additional meaning. Red symbolizes strong emotion and blue is used to indicate strength, especially spiritual strength. The white background symbolizes purity and the solid black circle represents unity in Christ.

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Bouguereau, Song of the Angels

From the Liturgy of the Hours, Christmas Day, Office of Readings

A sermon of Pope St Leo the Great

Christian, remember your dignity

Dearly beloved, today our Saviour is born; let us rejoice. Sadness should have no place on the birthday of life. The fear of death has been swallowed up; life brings us joy with the promise of eternal happiness.

No one is shut out from this joy; all share the same reason for rejoicing. Our Lord, victor over sin and death, finding no man free from sin, came to free us all. Let the saint rejoice as he sees the palm of victory at hand. Let the sinner be glad as he receives the offer of forgiveness. Let the pagan take courage as he is summoned to life.

In the fullness of time, chosen in the unfathomable depths of God’s wisdom, the Son of God took for himself our common humanity in order to reconcile it with its creator. He came to overthrow the devil, the origin of death, in that very nature by which he had overthrown mankind.

And so at the birth of our Lord the angels sing in joy: Glory to God in the highest, and they proclaim peace to men of good will as they see the heavenly Jerusalem being built from all the nations of the world. When the angels on high are so exultant at this marvellous work of God’s goodness, what joy should it not bring to the lowly hearts of men?

Beloved, let us give thanks to God the Father, through his Son, in the Holy Spirit, because in his great love for us he took pity on us, and when we were dead in our sins he brought us to life with Christ, so that in him we might be a new creation. Let us throw off our old nature and all its ways and, as we have come to birth in Christ, let us renounce the works of the flesh.

Christian, remember your dignity, and now that you share in God’s own nature, do not return by sin to your former base condition. Bear in mind who is your head and of whose body you are a member. Do not forget that you have been rescued from the power of darkness and brought into the light of God’s kingdom.

Through the sacrament of baptism you have become a temple of the Holy Spirit. Do not drive away so great a guest by evil conduct and become again a slave to the devil, for your liberty was bought by the blood of Christ.

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Second Theme of Advent

Today marks the beginning of the Second Theme of Advent in the Catholic Liturgical Calendar. The daily liturgical readings up until today have focussed on Jesus’ second coming and our judgment. Beginning today, the readings focus on the prophecies and events leading to His first coming, a child born of the Virgin Mary. They culminate in the Nativity readings on Christmas Eve.

This beautiful Christmas Day Prayer from Priests for Life:

A Christmas Day Prayer

Praise to You, Lord God!

You have become one of us — You have become a human being, while still retaining all your power and holiness as God!

You, O Lord, made the journey of the unborn child. By being an embryo, a fetus, and a newborn, you joined all unborn and newborn children to you!

From the beginning of history, O Lord, You were the Creator of every human life. Now, with Christmas, You join Yourself in an unthinkable way with the life You created.

Let this Christmas, O God, fill all of us with awe and wonder at how close human life is to You. Cleanse the world of all that tarnishes and rejects this gift. Purify our hearts of all that fears this gift.

Let our Christmas joy be the joy of welcoming every human life! Amen!

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