Sunday Mass this week was a rather dry and gloomy affair; winter had dumped its first criticism of global warming on us, music had been mostly cut out of the liturgy, and the decorations were the sparse inside joke of Advent purple.
In reading David Warren's recent column on Advent, I was struck by a saddening reality: we are a wretched people, obsessed with the latest electronic means of communication. The TV ads this time of year are all about the latest cellular phone (does anybody even call them that anymore?) or MP3 player.
They are also encouraging us, the lowly consumer, to be less concerned about receiving gifts, and more concerned about creating an excited reaction in those to whom we give our gifts. The Best Buy ads are a classic example - a husband is shopping for his wife, and asks the store employee where he can find an "I can't believe it! I can't believe it! How did you know? This is perfect!" There are a handful of other companies taking the same approach to advertising this Advent.
But looking for that reaction in itself creates an unhealthy dependency on the person to whom you're giving. It makes the giving a primarily selfish act.
This was not how God gave us his son. The Incarnation of Jesus was an event of mercy and love, not of a vainglorious praise-seeking exercise from the Father. Yes, our response is one of love, gratitude, and worship, but it's not our reaction he seeks - rather, it is our relationship.
That is the advantage of Advent: we are called to live austerely, and to prepare for the Lord's coming. We must not get caught up in the hype of our consumerist culture, buying and buying and buying. A great feast approaches us, and we must be ready to dine.