by Fr. David May.
If someone asked you what is the most important thing you do to prepare for Christmas, what would you say?
Decorate? Advent wreath? Finish shopping by mid-December? Daily Mass? Rosary? Cook for the feast? Get a new outfit? Christmas cards? Celebrate Our Lady of Guadalupe? St. Nicholas candies? Pass school exams? General survival? Times of silence and reflection? All of the above? None of the above?
Of course, we know this time of preparation is also called, liturgically speaking, "Advent." Advent might be called the Church’s idea of the best way to prepare for the coming of Christ—be it the final one at the end of time or the liturgical one at Christmas.
Since Christ is the Church’s Bridegroom, it is logical to follow her lead in learning how best to celebrate him. Her intuitions about this, inspired by her longing for his return, are clear and simple and can be expressed in two points.
First, think big. The prophecies of the Advent season convey to us the burning desire of God to redeem the whole of creation. We can never understand what is in the heart of the Child born to save us until we absorb words like these:
They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks…one nation shall not raise a sword against another, nor shall they train for war again (Isaiah 2: 4).
Not by appearance shall he judge, nor by hearsay shall he decide, but he shall judge the poor with justice… Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid (Isaiah 11: 3, 6).
On this mountain he will destroy the veil that veils all peoples, the web that is woven over all nations; he will destroy death forever (Isaiah 25: 7-8).
On that day the deaf shall hear the words of a book; and out of gloom and darkness, the eyes of the blind shall see. The lowly will ever find joy in the Lord (Isaiah 29: 18-19).
Strengthen the hands that are feeble, make firm the knees that are weak, say to those whose hearts are frightened: Be strong, fear not! Here is your God; he comes with vindication; with divine recompense he comes to save you (Isaiah 35: 4).
Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her service is at an end, her guilt is expiated (Isaiah 40: 1-2).
These are samples from the Masses of only the first week or so of Advent. They challenge us to think big. They remind us that the Lord is determined to carry out great things to bring his salvation to the whole earth and to each person on it.
Does it hurt you too much to think this way? Did you at one time really believe that the Lord might do great things, but now some years have passed? Do you find you have become more "realistic"? Or, is "hardened"’ a better word?
I remember washing pots late one Advent with a young lady at what is called in the Madonna House kitchen "the back sink." She was talking about Christmas and saying that she had long since stopped praying for peace on earth, because she didn’t want to be disappointed when Christmas came and there still was so little peace to be had.
It seemed that these prophecies had failed to lift her spirits, for after all, where and when had they been fulfilled?
Are your convictions similar to those of that young lady? If so, this season of Advent may well have a word especially for you.
Unless we dare to hope for great deeds by the Lord—in our day, in our times, in our families and communities, in this world of December 2007—we might fail to perceive or to follow the lead of the Lord "who comes with power to save."
Year after year, I’ve sat with these readings. Prayed with them. Preached on them. Tried to believe them. And do you know what I’ve discovered they are about, first of all? What the Lord Jesus wants to do for me this year.
From that tiny interior point—my heart—understanding gradually comes about some aspects of the Big Picture. But for this understanding to take root in me, I must also remember a second point.
Become small. If any liturgical season focuses on the humility of God who became a child in the womb of the Virgin, it is this one. He is showing us that great promises only begin to come true when we become small enough—as he did. Small enough to allow the Father to surprise us with his wonders.
I’ve recently been moving towards the brilliant conclusion—grudgingly at times, I must admit—that most of my problems stem from one root: I’m not small enough yet for God to do great things in me. Have you ever struggled with this one?
For example, I tend to get overwhelmed when I see no solution to difficulties. And being one of the directors of Madonna House, I am perfectly positioned to see so many difficulties.
Behind and before, they hem me in. It’s amazing how in a community like ours—composed of a rich mix of laymen, women, and priests scattered far and wide, of many ages and diverse temperaments—we can have so many unresolved and humanly insoluble situations.
You have to become very small and trusting to not get worked up about it. Know what I mean?
Also, I am quite apt to forget to ask Jesus and Mary to help me, help me, help me—all the time and on all occasions. Just when I think I have learned this, something new happens that I haven’t had to deal with before. Then I forget and start to fret, ponder, and figure.
Bad move. Better to bring it all, all the time, to Jesus and his Mother (or my Father, or the Spirit, or the saints—in short, heavenward).
It takes a lot of littleness to remember this, and quite a bit more to keep it up. After all, I do have a brain, and at times it is able to function somewhat rationally. It even seems to want to figure out problems, regarding them as a challenge.
All well and good, but unfortunately, this brain activity can be fueled more by worry than by grace, more by pride in my own abilities than by a beseeching spirit.
No, the main problem with poor Advents is that I am not little enough, not small enough, not childlike enough to trust that even today, even in this day and age, or more to the point, in this little life of mine, God is ready to do a great deed.
Are you wearied enough of your own ideas to listen anew this year to the great thoughts God has about your future and the future of our world?
Are you tired out enough by the futility of your own efforts to "make things better" to turn to God like a little child, the smallest of little children, and to lean on him at last, moment by moment by moment?
If so, you just might have the most blessed of Advent seasons, the one God has had in mind for you all along.
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