By Rich Berube
CSS Associate Chaplain
We are already well into the season of Advent, a period of active anticipation, of waiting, and of hope. Soon enough, we will experience the winter solstice -- which thankfully offers the promise of incrementally longer, if not immediately softer days -- and a few days later we begin Christmastide celebrations.
In its liturgy, the Church reminds us at this time of Advent about the themes of alert awakening (the first week), of active preparation (the second week), of patient waiting (the third week) and of hope-filled surrender (the fourth week).
People all over the world are engaged in preparing for this exciting period of Christmas gatherings and festivities. Central to these for Christians is the great feast of “Christ’s Mass” itself, the Incarnation when “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14).
In our tradition, Christmas is an essential liturgical marker on our spiritual journey. It is a powerful reminder, in the calendar year, that God truly inhabits our human condition. We are invited to experience a joy-filled life made possible by this transformative event in our history when our kinship with all of Creation was restored by the birth of Jesus.
We all engage differently in this Advent season of anticipation. My two- and four-year-old granddaughters are now being visited every day by a little winged elf who perches herself in a different spot in their home every morning. From there, their kindness toward each other is observed and reported back to Santa during their night’s sleep. When they prepare for Christmas in this way, they will be rewarded on that special day with pleasant surprises.
As we grow older, our childhood elves take on new manifestations, and perhaps the rewards become a little more complex and elusive. Our faith suggests that the reward might convert to more of a gift to be discovered and cherished. Indeed, the liturgy of Advent invites us to envision, and then to discover and celebrate, an alternative life experience of hope, peace, justice and love that Christ makes possible for us. We are invited to adopt a posture of watchfulness and patience, and in moments of silence and reflection, to awaken to God’s generous gifts of grace that are poured down upon us.
In the midst of the hustle-bustle and the noise and commerce that characterize the season, this is indeed a difficult invitation to heed. As grownups, we tend to forget the simple trust and beauty of a child’s kindness, of a granddaughter’s willingness to “give over to the other.” We spend years working hard at developing our personal ego boundaries, and so it seems a very big challenge to step aside from our small self, and recognize within us that God-given dignity that we share with all others -- and which through the redemption of Christ makes us vessels of divinity (the dwelling places of God). That may be the essential message of Christmas: When we take leave of our comfort zones and complacent certainties, we re-awaken to God’s mercy, we gaze with rekindled love at those who touch our lives, and revive our wonder at all of God’s creatures.
Advent, then, is a rich opportunity for us to re-engage our spiritual journey, to become more hopeful, to rediscover that inner self where freedom, joy and self-confidence are firmly rooted in the dignity of being God’s dwelling place. In Jesus is the full union of our humanity with the divine.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.