Is Advent still possible in our culture? It’s supposed to be a time to prepare for Christ’s coming—past, present, and future—but our Decembers are quickly filled with deadlines, gift lists, and get-togethers. The rush to Christmas seems anything but prayerful: we crash into the 25th just wanting it to be over. And through it all, the culture wars wage tiresome battles: Merry Christmas vs. Happy Holidays.
But this is no modern problem. Long before Black Fridays and flight delays, humanity was still too busy to receive its Savior. Bethlehem’s innkeepers were overworked and exhausted, grumbling against Caesar’s census. They had no time for another pair of poor travelers from up North. They had no sympathy for a woman on the verge of giving birth. They just wanted the hubbub to be over.
Nor are culture wars a uniquely modern crusade. Keeping Christ in Christmas was first the call that Joseph answered, waking up wife and child in the middle of night to flee for Egypt. The tyranny of “happy holidays” pales in comparison to the swords of Herod’s men, glistening with innocent blood.
There is something more to our Advent woes than just our culture’s hurly-burly. Ever since our fallen forefather first fled the footsteps of his Lord’s garden stroll, we scurry and scatter with ill-conceived dread before our Lover’s approach, hiding behind wants and worries. Beneath the season’s busyness lies our brokenness.
But this is not the whole story: our brokenness is neither the beginning nor the end. By Love we were fashioned; for Its consummation we are destined. And if we hide, He’ll seek us with unfailing fidelity, proving our pride to be but childish games. For even the craftiest hider is held in His fatherly gaze. O, where can we go from His love, or where can we flee from His sight? Even darkness is not dark for Love, and the night is as clear as the day.
In patience He let us take our helpless hiding places, but in mercy He began to count; and having reached the fullness of time, the Son of God could wait no more. He bounded toward Bethlehem with exuberant zip, hollering to the world, “Ready or not, here I come!”
Our Savior knew what awaited Him: busy innkeepers and bloodthirsty Herod. But neither could keep the Bridegroom from His Beloved—little less could the traitor’s treacherous kiss or the soldiers’ piercing nails. Undaunted, His Sacred Heart burned only brighter for His Bride. For deep waters cannot quench love, nor floods sweep it away.
This is the God for whom we prepare this Advent. He does not come to call the righteous but the sinner. He does not tend the well but the sick. The Lord of all seeks no earthly palace; He prefers a manger with its hay and livestock, smells and all.
Our rush to Christmas crescendos to a marvelous exchange: we confess our frame’s frailty— “Lord I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof”—and yet He enters all the same, stooping under the roof of our humble homes, healing us by becoming Bread broken for love, and giving sweet repose to hearts too long estranged from His.
But what is left of the Advent season? Is it merely our perennial failure to prepare? Surely Christian grace is not in vain.
Ours is the journey of the wise men. Seemingly folly to worldly Herods, we leave our homelands to follow the horizon’s star. The proud brood and plot, but we lift a song of expectation, longing to surrender our treasures and adore the King of kings who for us is born a babe.
Ours too is the vigil of the shepherds. While weary innkeepers busy themselves restless, we tend to our tasks with simple love. In night’s darkness, we wait for heaven’s glory, and in silence, for angels’ choirs. Our feet are shod, our staffs at hand to go and behold the Lamb of God, who takes away our sins, the Good Shepherd who lays down His life in the manger’s crib.
And if we dare, let us join Galilee’s newlyweds trekking to their ancestral home: the carpenter caring for his beloved, and the mother-to-be contemplating a Heart keeping time with hers. For at the Gardener’s approach, she did not flee, but rather offered herself as His humble handmaid. And while others were entrenched in hiding, God made of her His dwelling: “This is my resting place for ever; here have I chosen to live.”
Before her Son is even born, her soul proclaims His arrival, and as He takes the form of a slave, her spirit rejoices in her mighty Savior’s reign. No bushel basket within her hides the splendor of compassion’s dawning; she is His monstrance, her Son’s morning star. Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God shines forth.
O Mary, sweet Mother, by your tender care, draw us out from our hiding places. Hold us to your heart amid our struggles and woes, and sing to your children the wonders of the Son you bear. Prepare our hearts as you did His manger, that we may welcome Him who seeks us and be made a dwelling of the Most High, Christ Jesus.
Image: Fra Angelico, Annunciation (1432)