Fourth Sunday of Advent
Just a few days away now from the beloved feast of Christmas, the Nativity of Jesus Christ Our Lord. What shall we do to prepare ourselves for such a momentous event? How shall we make ready for the Lord of all creation who comes to us once again through what the liturgy calls the nova nativitas, the new nativity of Our Lord? An old event of our history, it is ever new. Like all this is good and true, it is constantly being reborn in the hearts of men.
How then to prepare? First of all in prayer, in recollectednesss, in silence, in avoiding vain curiosity. The Master is in our hearts, He knocks at the door, He comes laden with gifts, but which are given only to those who are prepared for them. If He finds the door locked, if He finds us too busy with other things or too concerned with ourselves or the futilities of the world, He will not have much to give, because we will not be ready to receive.
Holy Mother Church puts before us on this day the words of Isaiah, repeated by St John the Baptist: “Prepare the way of the Lord; make straight His paths; every valley shall be filled; and every mountain and hill shall be brought low, and the crooked shall be made straight and the rough ways plain”. Setting straight what is crooked is a way of insisting upon the necessity of truth, of honesty. God does not visit the crooked of mind, those who pretend to be what they are not, or who deal deceitfully with others. Bringing the hills low refers to the need we have of humbling ourselves in order to receive the humility of God incarnate. To the humility of God must correspond the humility of man. How indeed could the high-minded recognise the infinite God in a manger, clothed with weakness and poverty? The valleys to be filled tell us that we must not give in to excessive dejection. Discouragement is always from the devil. To give in to discouragement is to play the devil’s game; it is to give him more power over us. No, those valleys must be filled; we must be fully conscious of the grandeur of our vocation.
But all of this demands reflection, substantial time spent in prayer. In the coming days leading up to Christmas, I exhort you to take care to set aside time to prepare the temple of your heart. As Christmas approaches, many are feverishly preparing gifts and meals and organising events. Let us be reminded that the event has already taken place. There is nothing we can do to make it any more significant than it already is. The gift too has already been given, and is offered to us continually in the holy liturgy. As for the meal, we are invited each day to take part in this heavenly banquet of the Bread come down from Heaven into Bethlehem, the House of Bread.
Let us set aside time each day to reflect, to empty our hearts of all that we have allowed to clutter up the space over the past year. Let us beware that when the Saviour comes on Christmas night, He not open the door of our heart only to find that it is a little bit like an old attic filled with odds and ends accumulated over the months, making impossible His entrance. He cannot enter a soul that is already full of itself, of the world, of sin.
Perhaps we are discouraged when we look at our souls. Perhaps we wonder how we can possibly do something about it. Perhaps we feel helpless to remove the clutter and make room for the Son of God. Perhaps we realise that many of those objects in the attic of our heart are not just worldly and futile, but downright bad. Perhaps our conscience weighs us down. Yesterday, in the long vigil Mass for Ember Saturday, one of the orations struck me by its simplicity and daring expression: “Lord, to us Thine unworthy servants, who are saddened by the guilt of our own deeds, we beseech Thee to give joy by the coming of Thine only begotten Son”. In just a few words, the double reality is expressed with the greatest clarity: our sins sadden us and weigh us down, we find ourselves helpless; but the birth of Jesus brings us joy. Why does it bring us joy? Because He is the one who delivers us from our sins. Joy and sin cannot coexist. One of them must go. If we are on a path of conversion – and please God we all are, albeit at different stages of that journey which ends only at death – then it is already the birth of Jesus which, by its grace, is at action in our soul. And that action of God brings us joy.
That is precisely why the grace of Christmas is a grace of joy, an overflowing, uncontainable, inexpressible joy: that of knowing that the Babe who is coming saves us from all those old pieces of junk which we have accumulated in our hearts and which make us miserable. Let the Child take them all away, let Him pave the way for His own coming, let Him enter as King in His own palace. Yes, the old attic of our soul He wants to transform into His palace. He wants it to be entirely renewed, He wants it empty of all things, sparkling clean, so that He can bring with Himself an abundance of heavenly goods along with all His heavenly court.
Wherever Jesus is, Mary is also. That is why as we get closer to Christmas, the Church puts Our Lady before our eyes with renewed insistence. Even though, never having sinned, her soul was never the old cluttered attic that was in need of purification, she is the model of us all in her humble, patient expectation of the coming of the Lord. In the mystery of the Annunciation we find her totally open to grace, totally available to God, and fully resigned to wait for His coming with growing love. If you want to prepare well for Christmas, take refuge under Our Lady’s mantle. Fly to Her like the child who, terrified by danger, runs to its mother and knows that there all will be well.
With Mary the Immaculata, let us follow the exhortation of the Prophet Isaiah: In returning and rest you shall shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength (Is 30:15). Yes, in returning, that is to say, in turning back to the Lord, in conversion, in the repose of recollectedness, we shall find salvation. In the quiet tranquillity of longer and deeper prayer, in utter trust in the power of the Infant God, we shall find strength, the strength of God Himself. The joy of His coming will give us the ability to stand firm and in peace, no matter what may happen around us.
Let us, my dear Friends, give Our Lord the honour of trusting in Him so much that we may not allow ourselves to be troubled by any contrary occurrence whatsoever. It matters not what happens to the world, to our nation, to our family, to our own flesh; it matters not what bad news may reach our ears. What matters is that the Prince of Peace is on His way. He Himself is peace. He Himself is joy. Let us make sure that this Christmas is filled with the joy that He brings. That will be the greatest present we can offer Him on His birthday, for it is a gift that He Himself brought to the world 2,000 years ago and wants to see alive and bearing fruit in our lives.