Written by Dcn. John Guigno, Rose Davis and Ginny Miller
About six weeks ago, on a warm Saturday morning in October, Ginny, Rose and I sat down and started preparing for today's homily. Each of us had our copies of the readings for Advent. We'd read them before we arrived, we'd underlined the phrases that caught our attention and written notes in the margins. We chatted for a bit about our children and grandchildren, and about things going on in the world. And after a little while our talk turned to Advent, and we asked ourselves once again - "What does this season mean?" and "Why does the Church's low key preparation for Christmas often feel so different from the world's extravagant, and busy, preparations?
We began to realize, again, that fundamental difference between the two kinds of Christmas preparations. In these weeks before Christmas, the world tells us to focus on buying gifts to give. But our faith asks us to focus on receiving gifts, gifts so great that they were life-changing in the history of the world and, if we're ready to accept them, they will change our lives too.
Advent says "can you believe it?" God, the creator of the universe became a human being and joined us on this planet to make it whole and holy once again. Advent says "Can you believe it?" Human beings are unique in all of creation. God put a piece of God's very own divine life inside of us so that we could be His friends, His partners, not just His creatures. Advent says "Can you believe it?" God promises to be with us, every day; we are never alone.
Jesus came to Bethlehem. He will come to us this very day, and on the last day. Advent tells us "watch, don't miss him, be ready to receive him wherever he comes."
Advent and Christmas celebrate receiving not giving. Receiving the gift of Jesus - receiving the gift of our own beautiful humanity. Our Advent challenge is to keep our feet in both worlds, to enjoy the world's tradition of choosing and giving gifts, but, more importantly, to allow ourselves to re-experience the wonder of the greatest gift we have ever, or will ever, receive.
During World War II, a French writer being held captive by the Nazis was asked by his fellow POWs to write a Christmas play. The writer was an atheist, but his words speak profoundly. As he describes the characters in his play, he writes this about Mary:
"The Virgin is pale as she looks at the child. If I were a painter I would paint an anxious amazement on her face that has only appeared once on a human face. For the Christ is her child, teh flesh of her flesh and the fruit of her womb. She carried him for nine months and she will feed him at her breast. Her milk will become the blood of God. For a minute the temptation is so strong that she forgets that he is God. She squeezes him in her arms and say - "My little one."
But at other times she remains bewildered and she thinks "This is God!?!" And she is overcome with awe for this silent God, this unique child.
All mothers have a moment when they feel like exiles in the presence of their own children, when they realize that the new life created inside of them has his or her own foreign thoughts. This particular child, most of all, exceeds the limits that his mother, Mary, can imagine.
But there are other moments, rapid and fleeting, when Mary perceives by faith that the Christ is her son, her little one, and that he is God. She looks at him and she thinks: "This is my child. This is divine flesh. He is made from me. He has my eyes, and the shape of his mouth is the shape of mine. He looks like me. He is God and he looks like me."
Two great gifts - one: a God who entered the world small and vulnerable, approachable and huggable, awe-inspiring and anxious to fill the world with love. And two: the beauty and potential of our own humanity - demonstrated for us in a woman who trusted God and partnered with him to bring love into the world.
The only thing that this wonderful atheist writer probably couldn't have imagined is the fact that God wants each of us, not just Mary, to receive these same gifts. The Gift of God with us - Emmanuel. The gift of our humanity. We, too, bear Christ in the world. Those are the gifts of Advent - prepare to receive them.
Our Advent Scriptures in the weeks ahead will guide us.
Jesus will tell us "Be vigilant and pray...stand erect and raise your heads."
So...don't be lulled into forgetting that it's the Lord, himself, who is coming. Take heart. Thank God for not being distant.
John the Baptist will plead with us "prepare the way of the Lord" - straighten the paths, fill in the valleys, even out the mountains - remove whatever obstacles might come between God and you, between God and others.
So...be quick to set good example, try to diffuse anger and anxiety, be generous in filling in the low spots of everyday life - offer a smile, a greeting, a complement - say "thank you," say "I'm sorry." When you know people are hungry or cold, do something to help.
And Mary and her cousin Elizabeth - will encourage us to be full of wonder, to let ourselves feel joy and share joy with others. They'll remind us that God comes as close to us as our own heartbeat.
God will come to us each day. Some days God will have your face, or mine. And some days God will come with eyes and lips that look very different from ours. That is God's plan. And it is all a gift to us.
So...spend Advent preparing to receive God's wonderful gifts. Then we'll be ready to spend the rest of the year giving them away to others.