When I was little, we used to spend most of our summers visiting my mother’s family in South Texas. We lived outside Washington DC and right after school let out, we would pack all of our stuff into the family station wagon and drive the 1,700 miles to the Rio Grande Valley.
My mother comes from a large family and going down to visit them was like going to a summer camp where you were related to all of the campers. It may sound strange but one of the best things about those vacations was the trip down. This was because of the way that my father planned those trips. Now this was way before Google maps or Ways, this was in the days of the AAA “trip tick”. He would get a very neat spiral bound, 4 by 8-inch book, that had our entire route planned out one page at a time. But my father’s planning did not stop there. He wanted our trip to be part of our vacation. More specifically, he wanted our trip to be a series of previews of our vacation. He wanted to show us snippets of what we would find when we got to south Texas.
For example, although we had a lot of relatives in the Valley, no one had enough bedrooms to give us our own guest rooms, so we were going to have to spend our time sleeping on cots and air mattresses. As a part of the trip my father made sleeping on the hotel cot a big deal. It was made one of the highlights of the trip, reserved only for the best behaved and always the symbol of status and privilege. By the time that we got to south Texas our cousins though that we had lost our minds because we were always the first to volunteer to sleep on the cots. As a matter of fact, we would insist on it!
The other thing that he would plan was “cook outs” for every meal while we were on the road. He would use the AAA guide to identify roadside parks and rest stops for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We would pull out this clunky gas stove and prepare everything from eggs and bacon to burgers and beans. Again, this was one of his many previews of things to come. While my uncles could not fit everyone in their dining rooms, everyone had enough room in their yard for few picnic tables, a grill or two or three and we would have an impromptu barbeque Texas style.
And the best preview of all was what he would plan for our entertainment. Although all of the roadside hotels had televisions in the rooms, we never thought of turning them on. The ultimate treat, after a long day in the station wagon, were the stories that my father would tell us. You have to understand that when we got to Texas the families would get together every evening and tell stories late into the night. Listening to my father tell his stories on the trip was amazing, for one thing he was a great storyteller, but the most important thing was that it would mean that we had stories to add to the family circles when we got to the Valley.
The reason that I share all of this is because these trips, with all of my father’s previews, is exactly what Advent is all about. Every little thing from the cots to the cookouts to the late-night stories, were getting us ready for our time after we got to the Valley. Just like every one of these Advent Sundays, and the weekday services in between, have been getting us ready for Christmas morning and the time beyond.
You see, Advent is nothing more than one big preview adventure with our destination being Christmas and beyond. Think about it; three Sunday’s ago, we heard a story about the Son of Man who is to come in glory and splendor. Then two Sunday’s ago we heard about some guy crying out in the desert, telling us to prepare the way of the Lord. Last Sunday we were told to rejoice in the Lord, always rejoice. And this week we hear that even impossible things are possible with God.
These are not random roadside picnics. Our Father has a purpose in mind. He wants us to know what is coming and not to be surprised. He wants us to be ready, not to be afraid, but to rejoice in the joy of Christmas. And above all He wants us to have the faith necessary to know that in Him all things, all of our challenges, all of our hopes and desires, and all of our needs are possible.
Imagine what would have happened if, right before we left for Texas, my dad had said; “Okay, this is the way that it will be … you will be sleeping on cots, eating on old wooden picnic tables and won’t be watching any television for three whole weeks”. That conversation was not going to go well. He had to show us what was to come because without those previews we would have dreaded the experience because it was all too impossible to believe.
The same is true with the coming of the Christmas season. The Son of Man is coming, so begin to prepare yourself. And don’t be afraid of what you will face or what it will take or what others will think. Instead REJOICE, in everything and at all times REJOICE because in God all things are possible.
Today we hear of Mary’s journey to visit her cousin Elizabeth. I don’t think that there was any mention of her having to sleep on cots, no doubt that was an oversight. But what was mentioned was the joy that went with that journey. Remember, Mary heard from the angel that her cousin was pregnant, and her immediate thought was to travel three days to be with her. Imagine what these two women had to talk about; two impossible pregnancies made possible by the direct intervention of God. One was baren and the other had not known man, but both were about to have children that would change the direction of the world. Two impossible pregnancies made possible, and the two of them had a front row seat to these miracles.
There are so many of us for whom all of these Christmas preparations are just so impossible. With all of the challenges in our life, with the recent loses that we have experienced, with the pressure that comes with managing so much for so many in so little time it is simply overwhelming. So, when we listen to today’s gospel, and we hear of this impossible little girl. This 14-year-old girl that was visited by an angel, was told that she was to carry the Messiah, and was told that God was with her perhaps it is the key necessary to help us put things into perspective. When we hear of a woman that wanted more than anything to be a mother, had all but given up but was now pregnant and standing before “the mother of my Lord” we are given a preview of what our God offers to us.
These reflections, these previews, do not make things go away; they do not make things easier but perhaps they can help to put things into perspective. My father’s adventure previews did not make the cots more comfortable, or the roadside meals more palatable but they did put things into perspective.
The Christmas season is all about impossibilities made possible. And Advent is all about an amazing preview adventure that can help to put the Christmas season into perspective. Take the remaining time between now and Christmas to enjoy the stories, enjoy the songs and decorations, enjoy the meals with family and sleeping on cots if necessary. And take the time to rejoice, in all things rejoice, because all things are possible in God.
And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood near them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were so afraid. And so the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for next Friday in the city of David there will be born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
LK 2:38-45 21:28-32
Mary set out
and traveled to the hill country in haste
to a town of Judah,
where she entered the house of Zechariah
and greeted Elizabeth.
When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting,
the infant leaped in her womb,
and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit,
cried out in a loud voice and said,
“Blessed are you among women,
and blessed is the fruit of your womb.
And how does this happen to me,
that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears,
the infant in my womb leaped for joy.
Blessed are you who believed
that what was spoken to you by the Lord
would be fulfilled.”
December 19, 2021
December 19, 2021