Movie Nights and Gift Boxes

Reflections on forthcoming Mass readings by Tom and April Hoopes.

Sunday, Nov. 29, is the First Sunday in Advent.


It’s Advent again — time for the Jesse Tree. If you’re like us, you’ve had limited success with the Jesse Tree. The four weeks before Christmas may be the least likely time you can stop and read Scripture with your children every night.

Nonetheless, forcing yourself to stop all the rush every night can utterly change the impact of the Advent season. And family Scripture reading is a very beneficial practice. It helps bond your children with the word of God in an extraordinary way. By reading Scripture together with our children, we ensure that Scripture isn’t something foreign to them, but is part of day-to- day life.

At, find readings by typing “Jesse” into the search field on the home page. Also find our “Gift Box Under the Advent Tree” activity. Every Advent, we put out a gift box with a removable lid (under the undecorated tree when we get it, or under an image of Mary and Child). Each morning each child picks a slip of paper from the box. The papers give them a task for the day: for instance, “God gave me the gift of my family. Today, I will give that gift back to him by: (Adults) calling a relative I haven’t called recently; (Big kids) writing a letter to a grandparent, (Little kids) hugging everyone in the family.”

Advent Movies

There are four movie nights in Advent when you can reinforce the meaning of the season with “Advent movies” about repentance and reform. Three we have recommended in the past are: It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), A Christmas Carol (1984, the excellent George C. Scott version) and The Juggler of Notre Dame (1984, a made-for-TV movie which has its weaknesses). For a fourth one, try 3 Godfathers (1948). Directed by devout Catholic John Ford and starring deathbed Catholic John Wayne, it’s a story about three Old West bank robbers who end up having to take care of a baby as they flee to New Jerusalem around Christmastime.


Jeremiah 33:14-16; Psalm 25:4-5, 8-10, 14; 1 Thessalonians 3:12-4:2; Luke 21:25-28, 34-36

Our Take

Christmas makes more sense if you’re expecting the end of the world.

There are always two strains in Advent Masses: The slow preparation for the appearance of the Christ Child and the noisy proclamations that everything is about to suddenly change.

It can almost seem like the two are at cross-purposes, as if the Church is doing a bait and switch, making dark promises about the end of time, and then saying, “Surprise! What the rolling timpani and brass fanfares were really leading up to was … ‘Away in the Manger.’”

In today’s readings, though, we can see very clearly the way God’s drama is related to, but differs in important ways from, merely human drama.

“The days are coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made,” says the first reading. “I will raise up for David a just shoot; he shall do what is right and just in the land.”

The grand fulfillment of God’s mighty promises, he says, will be a tiny little plant: bunny food. If that seems anticlimactic, it shouldn’t. It’s the same high drama God deploys to great effect each spring, and after a long winter, we understand how exciting a shoot can be.

The Gospel refers to an event that hasn’t happened to this day — Christ’s second coming. But the particulars should be very familiar to us.

“There will be signs in the sun, the moon and the stars, and on earth nations will be in dismay,” says Christ, and we can think of the star of Bethlehem and the unrest in the Holy Land when Jesus was born. “People will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken,” he says, and we can think of the fury of Herod and the host of angels that appeared in the sky. “And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory,” he concludes.

Will the second coming be drastically different from the first? That remains to be seen. The key, says the text, is to “Be vigilant at all times.”

Tom and April Hoopes write from Atchison, Kansas.