Each Thursday this Advent, I’d like to offer a few thoughts on the beauty and meaning of the season, and today’s thoughts come from the gospel reading at our daily Mass, a reading in which we hear the story of the “Three Little Pigs.” Think I’m kidding? Have a look:
Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell — and great was its fall! (Matthew 7:24-27)
So there aren’t actually any pigs or a big bad wolf or talk of anyone’s “chiny chin chin,” but at its core, it’s the same story. You have poorly-built houses getting blown to the ground and well-built houses enduring no matter how much huffing and puffing comes their way.
Now in the “Pigs” version, the problem comes from the building materials. The wolf can blow down the houses made of sticks and straw, but upon reaching one made of brick, it just can’t blow the house down. The tale that Jesus offers, while similar, has a slightly different focus, concentrating not on the materials used to build these homes but on the groundwork, on their very foundations. He speaks of the need to have a home built on the sturdiness of rock and the imprudence of believing you can successfully build on the unsteadiness of sand.
Just as we know the “Three Little Pigs” is not actually a story meant to teach pigs about best practices in construction, the focus of Jesus’ parable is also clearly not about successful home building, not in the literal sense at least. As he speaks about a “house,” Jesus is really sharing a message about how our faith informs our lives, and that, he points out, begins with our foundation. Another way to put it might be that it begins at our beginning, which is quite a fitting thought for this season of Advent, a season that’s all about getting ourselves ready for the beginning that is Christmas.
The birth of Christ is a beginning, a starting point that leads us into the life of Jesus. It’s the foundation of the messiah’s story here on earth and, correspondingly, of our entire life of faith. When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, God provided this new, incredible connection between heaven and earth, this new foundation for all of us as we try to live for Him.
That is a momentous beginning, one not at all of foolishness but of true wisdom and strength. It’s a foundation that gives such meaning to Christmas, meaning that goes far beyond just a day’s worth of celebration. For many, Christmas comes and goes. The presents are opened, the cookies are eaten, and when December 25 is done, that’s it. The next day, trees are dragged to the curb, and they move on. For Christians, however, the meaning of this new beginning can’t be contained within a single day. The foundation that day offers is one meant to be utilized and built upon. It’s a foundation of faith that leads us to Jesus and a lifelong relationship with Him. It’s a foundation of hope that keeps us moving forward even in our difficult moments. It’s a foundation of love that both reminds us that we’re cared for and shows us how to care for others.
All of that is contained in the Christmas story and the faith it leads us to. It’s a foundation that really does offer us enduring strength against rain, floods, winds, and big bad wolves. Sure, the presents, cookies, and decorations are nice, but in truth, they’re just sticks, straw, and sand. The real and solid rock we have is our faith, a faith that finds a new beginning with the birth of Jesus.
In these days of Advent, then, we find ourselves in a similar position to three little pigs choosing what they should use to build their new homes. We can prepare ourselves to use the sticks and straw of this season, only focusing on the superficial, commercial features of the holiday. Or, we can turn to the real bricks and rock of the Christmas miracle, ensuring that the foundation of our faith and our lives will always be sturdy and knowing that no matter how much the wolves of our lives might huff and puff, they’ll never blow us down.