Sunday, November 27, 2016

Of Trees and Piñatas - Homily for the 1st Sunday in Advent (A)

I hope everyone had a blessed Thanksgiving holiday. And I know that a few of you still have a final family gathering. Blessings to you. And a special welcome to our college students who are home for the Thanksgiving holidays. Know that we are praying for you, especially on your travels home later today and, also, for your final exams.

*          *          *

This morning we begin the season of Advent. (And where does the time go?!) After the food-coma of Thanksgiving, we hear the words of our Lord: “stay awake,” don’t fall asleep. What does He mean by this? He means, don’t lose your faith; don’t lose your hope; don’t lose your charity. Stay awake in faith, hope, and love!

This message is very timely as we begin Advent because we all know how busy-ness and the craziness of the marketplace can consume us—whereby we forget the true meaning of things. Indeed, losing the meaning of one’s life (starting with such things as losing the meaning of Advent and Christmas) is a very quick way to lose one’s faith and hope and charity. Losing meaning is a lot like falling asleep; it’s a kind of death.

So, for example, putting up a Christmas tree can become a great chore and just another “thing to do” if we have lost (or indeed never learned) the meaning of the Christmas tree. What does the Christmas tree mean? I could give you the history, but the meaning is found elsewhere: that is, in the answer to the question, “On what was Jesus crucified?” On a tree. And what did the crucifixion win for us? Grace. (Hence the Christmas presents—graces—under the Christmas tree). And why was Jesus’ crucifixion on a tree necessary and fitting? Because in the beginning Adam and Eve sinned by taking fruit (the ornaments, if you will) from the tree.

Putting up the Christmas tree is to be a great reminder of our Savior (who comes to born to us on Christmas) and our need for Him (to undo the effects of the first tree).

Lose these basic meanings and Christmas becomes a chore. We fall asleep. It is, as Lucy exclaims in C.S. Lewis’ Narnia: “What? The cold of winter and never Christmas?” That would shake anybody’s faith, hope, and love!

*          *          *

Just like in Lent, Advent requires a fight from us. And it is a terrible fight. It is the fight against sleep. Ask any college student who is trying to pull an all-night for exams (not recommended), and they will tell you of the struggle—and the need for Mountain Dew. Or watch any young niece or nephew who wants to stay up with the older kids and fights the heavy eyelids. It is a great fight. And it is doubly hard when it feels like we are fighting alone.

To reclaim the meaning of the “things” of our faith and the meaning of our lives—which especially include these beautiful seasons such as Advent—requires a great fight from us. This is why I love the image of the piñata as a sign for Advent.

Yes, the piñata is a sign for Advent.

Let me explain….

Typically, we think of the piñata as part of a child’s birthday celebration. If you don’t know what a piñata is, it is a medium-sized papier-mâché figurine—sometimes a donkey or a pony—that is fairly flimsy, is covered in tinsel and other decoration, and is hollow in the middle but filled with candies and goodies. At the party, the kids line up and one by one they are blind-folded. The blind-folded kid receives a stick (this may not be such a good idea!) and is told to strike the piñata. It is tough to do but, eventually, the piñata is hit a few times and it breaks open and the treasures are spilled for the kids to enjoy.

Most think this is a Mexican tradition, but it actually comes from medieval Italy (and was brought to Spain by missionaries). The Italians would use the piñata not at birthday parties, but on the first Sunday of Lent (the Spanish would use it for Advent). The reason for this is that there was deeper meaning to the piñata than just a birthday party and hitting a papier-mâché figurine. Here’s what they saw:

Ø  the figurine with all its flimsy paper and tinsel represented the pomp of the world and the show of the devil.
Ø  the blind-folded child represented faith
Ø  the stick represented the battle of virtue with the pomp of the world and the devil
Ø  the breaking apart of the piñata and the reception of the treasures in it represented the prize of eternal redemption for those who fought the good fight of faith

Who knew, right?

*          *          *

In many Hispanic cultures, the piñata would be used during the final days of Advent, to remind everyone to not get caught up in the pomp and show of the world; to fight the good fight of faith, to stay awake and pray and remember who is really coming at Christmas.

(And we thought the piñata was just for birthdays! Little did we realize it was for The Birthday par excellance: that is, Jesus'!)

The virtues were also very important, just as we heard in the second reading: so that we may avoid drunkenness and lust and rivalry and jealousy. I mean, goodness! Am I wrong in saying that so many are tempted by these things at Christmas parties? Isn’t there also so much rivalry and jealousy among our children at Christmas, too? Shouldn’t we be fighting harder with weapons of virtue, therefore?

Stay awake, therefore! Do not be lulled into the sleepy trances of this world and its loss of meaning. That’s what happened at the Inns at Bethlehem on Christmas eve, right? The people there had lost the meaning of life and their faith; they had lost their hope of a Savior and so were not looking for Him; they had lost charity and so when Mary and Joseph came with the Savior, no one opened the door to them.

The Spanish have another great tradition here called the posadas (the inns). And I think it is a tradition will should all make our own:

On the final eight or nine days of Advent, the family gathers by the nativity scene in their home. (Sometimes friends and neighbors gather for this too—which would be great for our Christmas parties!). Typically, all pray the Rosary (or as much as the little children can handle). After that, the parents in the home or the little children pick up the statues of Mary and Joseph from the nativity and begin a candle-procession throughout the home or the neighborhood. Mary and Joseph go to each door of the house (which are closed) or to the Catholic neighbors and knock on the door. No one answers. Or, if they do, they say that they have no room.

Mary and Joseph continue on their way, knocking, and being turned away. Eventually, the procession returns to the nativity in the home. This is where Mary and Joseph will find room. While the rest of the world turns them away, we fight for them and embrace them.

Then the piñata comes out and there is a little celebration. (And probably a burning off of the kids’ holiday sugar high).

*          *          *

I hope all of us, therefore, will see through the pomp and show of this world. I pray we all walk in faith and prayer and make room for Jesus and Mary and Joseph. I have faith we will fight with virtue and rediscover the meaning of the season. I pray that when the Lord comes at Christmas and even here at this altar, that He will find us alert, awake, ready, and eager to receive Him.

This is Advent. The Lord is coming!

No comments:

Post a Comment