As Christmas draws closer, many people are beginning to put up decorations and to prepare for the celebration, which likely will be different this year because of the ongoing health crisis. However, traditions like setting up a Nativity scene, decorating and deciding on gifts to exchange probably will take place.
Bishop Edward Malesic celebrated Mass on Dec. 6 – the second Sunday of Advent – at St. Hilary Parish in Fairlawn. He shared the story of a 3-year-old who was helping his mom unpack the family’s Nativity set and he announced each piece, as it was unwrapped: “Here’s the donkey. Here’s a king. Here’s a camel.” When he found the tiny infant Jesus glued in the manger, he said, “And here’s baby Jesus in his car seat,” which elicited a laugh from the congregation.
The bishop said as we prepare for Christmas, the Church reminds us about John the Baptist who tells us for the next two weeks to get ready for Christ. St. Mark’s Gospel for the day talks about John being dressed in camel’s hair, eating locusts and honey, living in a desert wasteland and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. “This was his way of getting the world ready for the Lamb of God who was coming to take away the sins of the world,” the bishop said.
John the Baptist looked like a religious eccentric, he explained, yet God chose him to herald the events that would follow soon. And his message remains fresh – even today.
“If nothing else, John the Baptist was authentic,” Bishop Malesic said. “He preached what he believed and he lived what he preached. That in itself is a compelling reason to listen to him. He reminds us to be ready for the one who sent the Holy Spirit to us in our own baptism.”
John the Baptist also was clear about how to get ready, preaching the consistent message of repent and prepare. Although he might seem like a fire and brimstone preacher – which he was, the bishop said – John the Baptist got our attention. “And we need to be awakened in a deeper sense than many people use the word today,” he added, pointing out that we need to be awakened to the fact that we are sinners and Christ died to set us free from our sins. We also need to be awakened to the fact that we need Christ in our lives, we need his love and the eternal life he offers – regardless of our skin color or political persuasion – and that we are called to love.
The modern world can distract us from the spiritual side of Christmas, making it more difficult to receive God when he comes to us, so we need to “prepare the way of the Lord and clear the path to make the highway to God straight again,” Bishop Malesic said. But that can be challenging; it will take work, prayer, a sense of need, humility, repentance and a heart that is open to receive the Lord when he comes – even when he comes in the form of bread broken to become his body and wine poured out to become his blood.
“In this second week of Advent, John brings us back to the dramatic reality of Jesus coming into the world stage. He strips away the shiny tinsel and jingle bells so that we can get back to the basics of our faith without the distraction of the holidays,” the bishop said.
He told the congregation that he has thousands of photos on his smartphone. One of his favorites was taken when visited Paris. It’s a of a statue of John the Baptist – with the focus on his finger, which is pointing up as if he’s telling us to look for Jesus to save us.
“I hope we never look away from the direction of the Lord who comes to save the world,” he said.
Father Steve Brunovsky, St. Hilary pastor, welcomed the bishop to the parish, which was established in 1958. He concelebrated the livestreamed liturgy, along with Father Matt Jordan, parochial vicar.
After Mass, Bishop Malesic spent some time greeting the faithful – wearing face masks and socially distanced – outside the church.