Isn’t it amazing how there is so much anticipation of Christmas even as we have only entered the month of December? Houses are being decorated, carols are being sung, and greeting cards are already in the mail. Many people are excited that Christmas is coming. This year especially, given all that we have had to deal with, who doesn’t want to experience the joy and peace of what this Holy Day means. However, before we jump into the middle of the Christmas spirit, the Church reminds us that we need to prepare ourselves. Thus, the readings that we hear early in Advent are from Baruch and John the Baptist. Baruch reminds us that “God is leading us in joy by the light of His glory, mercy, and justice” to prepare for the coming of the Messiah. John the Baptist tells us that true preparation is repentance, which means we must change our negative ways of thinking about and serving people. In short today’s message is that we can’t truly celebrate the coming of Christ at Christmas without being clean of heart and mind. So, before we get caught up in all the excitement that comes with these days, let us first withdraw into ourselves to clear ourselves of our own bad habits and sins. I like to compare this time of Advent to actors who are preparing themselves for an important performance. Before they come out on stage to perform, they first isolate themselves in their private room to get in touch with their own center, and to find peace away from all the turmoil. They know that to have a good performance, they first have to bear a certain aloneness; be with themselves for a while to make sure that they rid themselves of stress and negative feelings. They must first feel the burden of the event that is to come in those quiet, solitary moments, so that they will be totally prepared to serve the public through their performance. Applying this to Advent preparation, isn’t it true that we as disciples of Jesus need to do the same? We can’t let the culture pressure us into premature activity that feels more like anxiety than happy anticipation. The Lord wants us to meet Him with a calm, peaceful spirit. He wants this so that we may be open to receiving the greatest gift of all that we can ever receive:  His great mercy and love! Only through being prepared to receive Jesus with a peace-filled heart can we appreciate what God has done for us at Christmas!        ~ Fr. John