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The season of Advent in our times

Michael
Burke

Thursday, December 06, 2018

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In the season of Advent (observed over the four weeks before Christmas), Roman Catholics and other Christians recall the sinful world in which Jesus Christ arrived to save us from our sins. We do this by reflecting on our own sins with a view to repenting and confessing as we do in the period of Lent, which precedes Easter. Working towards being holy and virtuous is never a 'one-off thing' while living here on Earth.

Reconciliation (formerly known as penance or confession) is a sacrament in the Roman Catholic Church. Incidentally, all of the seven sacraments in Roman Catholic doctrine are found in the gospels. Jesus did give his apostles the power to forgive sins, as found in John Chapter 20: 23: “Receive ye the Holy Spirit, whosoever sins you forgive they are forgiven, whosoever sins you retain they are retained.” The pope and bishops are the successors of the apostles.

While Christmas is an extremely important event in the Christian calendar, it is Easter that is the most important event to Roman Catholics. Had Jesus not risen from the dead, why then would we celebrate the “Word (of God) made Flesh” (John Chapter 1:14) at Christmas?

Our belief in Jesus as part of the holy trinity and coming to us at Christmas can be summed up in the words of the last verse of O Come , all ye faithful, which are: “Saviour we greet thee/ Born this happy morning/Jesus to thee be all glory given. Word of the Father/Now in flesh appearing.”

In Roman Catholic Church doctrine “a sacrament is a sign instituted by Jesus Christ that gives grace”. We further teach that “grace is a supernatural gift from God freely given to make us more holy with Him in this world and happy with Him in the next” (a summary of numbers 1996 to 1999 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church).

When we sin we fall out of grace, and when we go to the sacrament of reconciliation, we return to a state of grace. The traditional format of the act of contrition said in the sacrament of confession is, “O, my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended you. And I detest all my sins because of your just punishment. But most of all, because I offend you, my God, who are all good and deserving of all my love, I firmly resolve, with the help of your grace, to sin no more and to avoid the near occasion of sin.”

While we are all sinners no matter how firmly we “resolve… to sin no more and avoid the near occasion of sin” we should still make resolutions, as many do at the start of every new year, even if the resolutions are broken.

In a very ecumenical sense, the Seventh-day Adventists, who do not celebrate Christmas or Easter, can identify with the teaching of avoidance of sin. In 1894, two Seventh-day Adventists, Will Keith Kellogg and his brother Dr John Harvey Kellogg, worked together on a food diet to cure dyspepsia and to curb the urge to masturbate and to fornicate. In other words, the Kellogg brothers did scientific research to 'avoid the near occasion' of one kind of sin to borrow from the Roman Catholic confession prayer. And out of the research by the Kellogg brothers to 'avoid the near occasion of sin' came the Battle Creek Toasted Corn Flakes Company that originated in 1906, which later came to be known as Kellogg's Corn Flakes.

At the corn flake company, W K Kellogg added sugar to the flakes to make them more palatable to a mass audience, but this caused a disagreement between the two Kellogg brothers. This is why today all of Kellogg's cereals are sweetened, but there was no sugar added to the original Kellogg's Corn Flakes. It was a tasteless pile of corn flakes when it was invented to curb undisciplined sexual behaviour.

This matter of marketability is a reality in private businesses and a reality in politics where political parties shelve ideologies to attract voters. It happens in socialist, centrist and capitalist political parties.

There were many responses on the Jamaica Observer website to my article last Thursday entitled 'Traffic fines and campaign contributions' but some readers only understand a little political theory but not practical politics. Some do not understand that to both capitalists and socialists, despite their ideologies, attractiveness to voters is an urgent matter in politics. So socialists use capitalist methods and, likewise, capitalists use socialist methods when deemed necessary to be politically marketable. Indeed, many current affairs analysts understand the issues very well, but do not understand how elections are won.

While it is very understandable in business and politics, far too many churches move away from the central message to attract large numbers of people, presumably to increase the plate collection. This is why the message about Christian virtue and the importance of family life to Christian living is now lost.

This makes reflection and penance even more important during this season of Advent, just as it is during Lent. Crime and violence in our society is caused by the disorganised state of families in Jamaica, which is rooted in piracy and slavery, as sexual intercourse done carelessly over the centuries has led to unwanted children. We need to correct this.

For this reason I have advocated for several years that the December 26 holiday known as Boxing Day should undergo a name change to Family Day to emphasise the growth of family life, as in any case it is a time when families get together.

Boxing Day goes back to England when the servants worked on Christmas Day and the day after (Boxing Day) they opened up the boxes of old stuff thrown out by their bosses when they received new presents. We certainly cannot emancipate people from mental slavery in this way.

I do not advocate removing any holiday and, in any case, Jamaica has only 10 public holidays. But we can change the name and emphasis of the holiday as was done originally with Pentecost, Easter, and Christmas.

Michael Burke is a research consultant, historian and current affairs analyst. Send comments to the Observer or ekrubm765@yahoo.com.

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