As soon as Thanksgiving ends and the consumer world starts promoting and selling Christmas in earnest, I feel like I immediately start to hear from the Catholic media sphere the repeated mantra warning us against the spirit of materialism: Focus on the reason for the season, don’t get stressed out over Christmas shopping and buying stuff, don’t get sucked into the consumerism, keep Christ in Christmas, etc. Not that those messages aren’t valid- they are entirely valid – but in response to those anti-consumerism Christmas messages I found myself thinking this year – “Yeah, I know! Give me more to sink my teeth in to…”
For any Catholic who has been around the block a few times, we understand that Christmas isn’t about materialism, and we understand that we should practice awareness so we don’t get swept away by shopping frenzies, parties and hectic holiday travel plans. We understand that we should turn aside from all that to orient ourselves towards Christ in the manger.
So, since we’ve got that covered, what else in our lives needs to be re-oriented? What are some of the other deeper messages about the meaning of Advent that aren’t getting as much blog time or radio time? I’d like to share one that occurred to me: becoming more oriented towards others by humbling ourselves.
“Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but [also] everyone for those of others. Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus, Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.” – A letter from Paul to the Philippians 2:3-8
Paul tells us to look out not just for ourselves, but others. He tells us that indeed because we are oriented to Christ, we can have the “same attitude” that he had – Christ humbled himself before God by taking on human likeness. That’s the meaning of Advent – the Incarnation. And we are called to do what Christ did, humble ourselves and consider others with love.
It’s important to note that this never means artificially degrading yourself – for God’s commandment was to love others as we love ourselves, not love others and not yourself. You see, when we are oriented to Christ, we are in right order to God, meaning that we embrace our own smallness before Him – and thus He is allowed to work wonders through us. The love flows from Christ into our hearts and then into others – when we don’t let our ego stand in the way.
So humbling ourselves isn’t about false humility or self-degradation. It is about right relationship to God and thus right relationship to others. And Christ gave us His perfect example – “He emptied himself.”
As we orient ourselves towards Christ this Advent season, may that turning toward God turn us also towards others.
Pray the Litany of Humility
And, if you like, you can listen to a beautiful version of it