There seem to be a few different groups of test takers.
Some start studying too late, fretfully scouring over their notes right up until the exam gets passed out. There are also those who have the material down, but hate the day or two before, restlessly awaiting the exam just to get it over with. The smallest group of students consists of those undaunted by the whole process. Having studied all along, they waltz into the room and emit rays of confidence as they take their test, naturally making their classmates sick.
In high school, I fell into the second category. Once I was mildly confident in the material, study seemed useless. I couldn’t wait fast enough to take the test and for the ‘dead time’ to be over.
Preparing for Christ’s nativity, of course, reminds us of our ultimate preparation in life, and it isn’t anything like that of my agitated anticipation of a tenth-grade French test. Plans in this world are always attached to a deadline: once it’s over, it’s over. Our preparation for eternity, to fall prostrate before the throne of the Divine Majesty and ceaselessly worship our Creator, doesn’t even begin to compare with any temporal counterpart.
Another difference: since we don’t know God in any considerable way like he knows us, we recall our need for him to prepare us. The type of personal effort that stems solely from our own initiative leads to that anxiety-filled anticipation. Since God’s not the one who has to prepare to meet us, we learn in anticipatory seasons like this to hope in his salvation, not our own.
This theme of Advent intensifies tonight as the “O Antiphons” begin. Over the next seven evenings at Vespers, the Church will sing out in the antiphons of the Magnificat a different divine name of Our Lord, each connected with a prophecy from Isaiah.
These chanted titles and subsequent descriptions refer to Our Lord as:
Radix Jesse (Root of Jesse)
Clavis David (Key of David)
Rex Gentium (King of the nations)
Emmanuel (God with us)
Tonight we call upon “Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High, reaching from one end to the other, mightily and sweetly ordering all things,” and beg him to “teach us the way of prudence.” This infinite Wisdom directs and prepares us at every moment of life, not just in our minds but in all we do, as long as we are open to be guided by it. The Lord gives us endless opportunities daily to grow in wisdom, knowledge, and love of him; through prayer, the Mass, Scripture, the wisdom of the saints, general life experiences, etc. We can never have a ‘dead time’ in between our preparation and our end. Our life is our preparation.
And so, that ‘unnatural’ group of students who took in a steady diet of material each day, who had every reason to be confident when the appointed time came, they become our spiritual archetype. We continue to grow in knowledge and love of God — provided we don’t give into the idea that we’re ever ‘absolutely ready’ and can just stall until the ‘test day’ comes. Flannery O’Connor notes this well, “When we get our spiritual house in order, we’ll be dead.”
Image: Medieval illumination, students in class