“Why do you delay, why are you afraid? Let humility be bold, let modesty be confident. If he should pass by because of your delay, in sorrow you would begin to seek him afresh, the One whom your soul loves. Arise, hasten, open. Arise in faith, hasten in devotion, open in praise and thanksgiving.”
These are the words with which St. Bernard of Clairvaux addresses the Blessed Virgin in a homily that we read during Matins on December 20th each Advent. The homily is incredibly beautiful and a great meditation at any point during the year, but I think that it is especially poignant just after Christmas. As we are still celebrating the Octave of Christmas, it is important to consider what the Incarnation of God means in our lives.
Our country prepares for the “holiday” season without rest beginning in October. This preparation, though, is all too often only on a material level: buying gifts, decorating, sending Christmas cards, etc. Once the 25th has passed, many people slip once again into the daily grind, and Christmas is put out of their minds until next fall. This is a legitimate danger even for those who hope to prepare their souls for the coming of our Savior by following the liturgies and disciplines of the Advent season.
St. Bernard addresses the Virgin with urgency. He implores her not to wait, but to proclaim her fiat to the Lord right away. He asks her not to fear because the whole world, even all creation is holding its breath in anticipation of her answer.
Three days past Christmas, we might consider how we would answer St. Bernard’s exhortations. Why do we wait, why do we delay, in saying yes to the Lord? What can we be afraid of? Each year, the Incarnation reminds us that God came into the world for us! He came to save us, but our salvation requires our participation, and God is waiting. He waits always, but the longer it takes for us to give ourselves to Christ, the longer we remain apart from Christ; the longer we only give a piece of our hearts to Christ; the longer we keep ourselves from true happiness.
St. Bernard says to Mary, “In this matter alone, O prudent Virgin, do not fear to be presumptuous. Though modest silence is pleasing, dutiful speech is now more necessary.” May the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, prompt such a “Yes” in us all, as it did in our Holy Mother, not only during this Christmas season, but in each moment of our lives.
Image: Edward Hopper, Cape Cod Morning