Today is the beginning of Advent, the start of a new liturgical year. It is a time of preparation, hope, and joy for the past — as we prepare to remember and celebrate the birth of our Savior on Christmas; for the present — as we learn to receive Jesus who is made known to us through the Eucharist, Scripture, the sacraments, other people, prayer, love, and truth; and for future — when Jesus will come again in all his glory to judge the living and the dead.
Perhaps it is hard to imagine how we can end this difficult year full of hope and joy. It seems unfathomable to be able to accurately plan for anything when we can barely plan for a week in advance without making countless revisions. Yet in today’s Gospel, Jesus is reminding us once again (as he has been for the past few weeks) to be prepared, to stay alert: “Be watchful! Be alert! . . . [Y]ou do not know when the Lord of the house is coming . . .May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping.”
Preparation, in the eyes of Christ, does not involve a home decorated to the standards of Martha Stewart or Chip & Joanna Gaines, the perfect family photo, beautifully wrapped presents, or an eloquent Christmas letter highlighting everyone’s successes [sent out on time, no less]. Nor should our hope and joy be tainted by the world around us. Like our preparations for Christmas, spiritual preparation can at times turn into busyness. I find myself overcommitting, attempting to do too many forms of prayer, thinking that there is some perfect formula that if followed correctly, will equate to a perfect relationship with Christ. Instead, to be watchful and alert means to turn our gaze inward and focus on the condition of our hearts. Are our hearts ready to welcome Christ? Or are there cobwebs of anger, unforgiveness, lust, pride, greed, and gossip that need to be cleared? Are our homes not merely marked by seasonal decor, but by spirits of joy, love, trust, hospitality, forgiveness?
This time of year, I love to listen to O Holy Night, paying particular attention to the line “Long lay the world, in sin and error pining, til he appeared, and the soul felt its worth.” When I ponder the reality that our God chose to enter into our world – a world full of spiritual darkness, sin, and error – as an infant born into poverty, so that our soul might know its worth, I am rendered speechless. A wellspring of desire stirs within my heart, and from it a renewed commitment to grow in holiness, to live a life worthy of the one who laid down his whole life for me.
Jesus desires to know you, to enter into your heart. He is willing to dwell in the humblest of hearts, he does not need perfection (afterall, he was born in a stable), but he does need an invitation. He wants to encounter you so that your soul might know its worth. Not tomorrow, not ten years from now. Today.
Our world is weary, but the darkness will soon turn to light. Christ is coming. May we prepare our hearts and homes to welcome him. When he arrives, may we not be caught off guard, or found sleeping, but fall to our knees, rejoicing.
* * *
Reflect — What questions are weighing on your heart as you begin Advent? How do you hope God will bring change to your life?
Act — Set aside the baking, shopping, worrying, cleaning, decorating, texting — not forever, just for five minutes. Every day this week, give God five minutes of your undivided attention. He desires to be in a deep relationship with you, will you let him?
Pray — Jesus, let this time of Advent be one of growth as I wait for you to come into my life anew. Do not let the darkness of my heart, or the doom of our world, overshadow your wondrous light of hope and truth. Come, Lord Jesus, come.
Listen — Music helps me pray. I try to be intentional about listening to Advent music (not Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You”) on the days leading up to Christmas to help prepare my heart for this special season. Here are some of my favorite songs on my Advent playlist:
- Light of the World // Lauren Daigle
- Hope for Everyone // Matt Maher
- Come Thou Long Expected Jesus // Meredith Andrews
- Shine So Bright // Salt of the Sound
- Wake, Awake, for Night is Flying // Dominican Sisters of Mary
This piece was originally written for Bishop Guertin High School’s Reflections.