December 2, 2016
Reading 1 Is 29:17-24
Thus says the Lord GOD:
But a very little while,
and Lebanon shall be changed into an orchard,
and the orchard be regarded as a forest!
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,
and the poor rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.
For the tyrant will be no more
and the arrogant will have gone;
All who are alert to do evil will be cut off,
those whose mere word condemns a man,
Who ensnare his defender at the gate,
and leave the just man with an empty claim.
Dear fellow pilgrims,
I greet you whilst sipping hot cocoa in solitude, enjoying an Advent wonderland: a decked-out Catholic center at NYU, with a lit christmas tree, a burning fireplace, and lit garlands around our humble little library. It truly is the most wonderful time of the year (besides the first day of pumpkin spice season… just kidding), a time of anticipation and hope, of joy, celebration, festivities, and family, but also, nostalgia, longing, impending change, and uncertainty. Advent is a mysterious season when we have the opportunity to reflect, from a bird’s-eye view, on how the world was right before Jesus came into the world as a helpless, impoverished infant, and then, how we responded to His Presence.
The image of a pregnant virgin, a paradox signifying the meeting of Heaven and earth, is central to this mystery. There is this sense of change, transformation infused into the air during Advent (see the first reading today): we anticipate the coming of Christ, the transformation of the relationship between God and Man. There are a million rapid changes that compose the formation of Jesus in the womb of Mary, silent beautiful changes that mark the emergence of all of our lives, as well as the obvious, large change of Jesus’ birth and beginning of His independent life on earth, marked by the feast of the Nativity.
God was born as an infant to help man see Him like they have never seen Him before (see the second reading - and second recent liturgical example - of Jesus healing a blind man). And yet, even though we “know” or can explain the relevance of this change in salvation history on the whole, we must continually submit to this now-established reality by participating in and transforming all the earthly things that God gives us in our lives to also be enmeshed with divine providence. In other words, we must continue the Incarnation of Man in our own person; we must see and submit into the constantly changing circumstances of our lives in light of His love for us.
God has made it extremely easy for me to see the parallels in my life with the season of Advent… I only need to look in the mirror at my pregnant body to meditate on the mysteries of this liturgical season and how they parallel this season of expectation in my own life. There are changes that are happening to me that I cannot control — a baby is forming in my womb…!!! it’s crazy — but the way I facilitate and respond to these changes is completely up to me. (And yes, the baby didn’t just show up one day without my involvement.) Aidan and I have recently been shifting into “nesting” mode, rearranging the physical layout of our apartment, making checklists of things we need and want for caregiving, setting up our respective maternity/paternity leave schedules, contacting relatives for scheduling help after baby arrives… there’s a lot to take care of before baby comes.
This preparation for our child has really made me think of how we prepare for Christ in our own lives, how we rearrange our hearts, our priorities, our attention, our desires, to make room and best nurture His presence and relationship with us. There are all the “things” we can do on our checklist to get the “stuff” ready for Christ, just like our baby, but all these things are only good insofar as they facilitate a deep, loving relationship with Him. In other words, it’s good to contemplate on all the “things” we think we need to do to be “better Christians”: are they more for show, or a compulsion, or a response to negative social comparisons? or are these things coming out of a true desire to cultivate our individual relationship with Christ?
The craziest part of Advent, though, in my contemplation, has revolved around how completely helpless the God of universe became when He was conceived in Mary’s womb, how He completely entrusted Himself to her, to Mankind. I have heard this interpreted as symbolic of how God did not want us to be afraid of Him, how it’s easy to approach a baby, to adore, to love. God wanted to remove all fear in our hearts, even at the risk of complete vulnerability. This is true, and worthy of meditation, but… I am seeing another side of it: babies require a lot of work and preparation to care for because they are completely helpless! They require and respond to tender love, caresses, skin-to-skin contact, kisses, hugs, sweet words spoken to them… they take in whatever is in their environment and are change quickly and profoundly. While we can only draw parallels from these facts so far to our spiritual lives (i.e. we cannot fundamentally change God, but we can move Him to pity), these observations remind me that God expects us to be both receptive and responsive to His actions and initiations. He gives us responsibility, He elevates us as humans by giving us a co-working role in the spiritual life; He gives us roles, vocations, in which we understand more of who He wants us to be, the paths in which He wants to form us.
To close, I encourage you all to ask the Lord how He wants you to prepare for Him this Advent. Will we arrive at Christmas and look in our hearts to find a messy room, with no place for Him to rest? Or, will He find a humble and available space, waiting for His Presence to divinize and enlighten our lives, just as the Holy Family enlightened the humble cave where Jesus was born?