The Advent season is a time of decorating. During Advent we spend a great deal of time decorating - we decorate our shops, streets, homes, trees, sometimes even ourselves with an upbeat mood, unusual sprightliness and even an unfamiliar smile to strangers.
There are two things to remember about these decorations. First, they are temporary. The tinsel, the trinkets, the lights come down and are stored away until next year. All too often with the dismantling goes the smile, the singing, the sprightly gait. Second, these decorations are exterior decorations - things seen, not unseen; things outside, not inside; things visible, superficial and artificial, not things of the spirit.
The exterior decorations we rely on now to get us in the "Christmas spirit" often do remarkably little to alter the barren landscape of our souls. Red-nosed reindeer, spray-on snow and hosiery on the mantlepiece reveal little about our hearts. Indeed, they themselves can contribute to a culture filled with people without insides - all exterior, all appearance, all image. By contrast, God's exteriors always point in a substantive way to an interior reality. Luke's Gospel reminds us that there will be signs "in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth ..." - all of creation will reflect the stirrings of its Creator's intentions.
On a simpler level Jesus points to a single fig tree which is capable of rightly expressing interior changes. Deep in its roots and heart, the rising sap of spring brings forth sprouts and leaves, decorating the tree with the lush greenery of new life. Jeremiah also uses this language of exterior regeneration to symbolize interior changes when he describes the new branch which will "spring up" from David's line.
What kind of ornamentation can we choose this season which can decorate our inner as well as our outer "living rooms?" Four Christmas ornaments we might select to beautify our souls come to us as gifts from the first Christmas family and witnesses:
1) The Gift of Mary - Faith
2) The Gift of Joseph - Justice
3) The Gift of the Shepherds - Wonder and Joy
4) The Gift of the Wise Men - Service