Introduction: There is something in the Christmas season that the church has difficulty dealing with: the preparatory character of Advent to Christmas. The ambiguity is seen here in the church as two contrasting colors signifying contrasting moods juxtaposed here. We have the bright colors of Christmas thus effectively glossing over Advent as a necessary prelude to Christmas. The market place has dictated the dizzying tempo of the season. John the Baptist was relegated to obscurity and Santa Claus was thrust into prominence as the symbol of the season – a symbol of abundance, fecundity and generosity, someone well fed (overeaten), well clothed (overdressed) and bubbling with joy.
Gospel: Today the gospel gives us the figure of John the Baptist to help us prepare toward a meaningful, fruitful celebration of Christmas, not only joy brought about by material abundance but the joy of being reconciled with God and with one another. What Santa Claus is, John the Baptist is not. John appears eccentric when you look at his wardrobe and diet. He wears a garment of camel hair with a leather belt. His food is locust and wild honey. It is not the “eat all you can” burst of buffet meals in fashion nowadays. His ascetic dress and wild diet is associated with the wilderness. He breaks its silence with his unsettling call to repentance. His own life is his message. It is in the desert that they become God’s people. It was in the desert that they intimately experience the providence and nearness of God, something they did not realize when they were enjoying the comforts of Egyptian civilization. Gradually it dawned on them that they are one people, not 12 tribes of Jacob.
(1) Call to repentance. The Greek word for repentance is metanoia. It carries a double connotation of changing your mind and behavior. It signals a need to go beyond your mindset and allow a new mindset to drive new action. Repentance begins by entering into the desert far from the madding crowd. Desert experience would lead us to the appreciation that if people survive it is not because of their own talents and efforts but because of God’s providence. Until we enter into solitude and do some inner work, we will always be a one-sided creation of other people. It is not a question of simple remorse but positive commitment to the way shown him by God. It does not mean simply going toconfession. It is asking why I transgressed God’s commandments at all.
(2) Bear fruits of repentance. One of the dangers of equating repentance or metanoia to simple confession and admission of guilt is the absence of change behavior. The same transgressions are repeated. True repentance means new behavior and a new way of living. If Christ were to come to us in a meaningful way, if Christ is to be more than “ho ho ho and a bottle of rum” we Christians have to change our minds with a corresponding change in behavior. The inner voice says we are children of Abraham and that is enough. No need for repentance for they claim physical descent. They are part of the 56 chosen people and the fact of their birth takes precedence over inner repentance.
(3) New life in Jesus. Metanoia or repentance literally means a 180-degree turn. It is turning back to God from a life centered on self. A life centered on oneself loses its spiritual character and is reduced simply to its material dimension. Without being conscious of it, the materialistic orientation of one’s life makes us consumeristic, greedy and selfish. This is the root of our transgressions of God’s commands. In our consuming desire to satiate our material satisfaction we alienate ourselves from our true selves. No amount of material things can fully satisfy us – not the 12,000 Burberry shirt nor a hundred thousand Hermes bag nor a thirty thousand iPhone. Not even your Maserati sports car which can get you into trouble with traffic enforcers. It can only lead to compulsive addiction to branded products.
Brothers and sisters, Santa Claus as a Christmas symbol of generosity, sharing and abundance becomes meaningful only as a result of our response to John the Baptist message of repentance. It is not abundance as such that makes this season joyful. Imagine you have all you wish for in your Christmas list from small gadgets and the latest accessories to more expensive amenities but you have no one to share it with. Imagine how pathetic it would be if you are alone for Noche Buena at Solaire or Resorts World. It is abundance shared with others that make this season joyful. We cannot luxuriate in the midst of want and misery. Santa Claus is no longer in the liturgical calendar.