Let Every Heart Prepare Him RoomDecember 24th, 2012
I have a very special memory of something that happened to me as a little child. On Christmas Eve, Mom brought down from the attic the banged-up, musty, ancient cardboard box. Inside were all the Christmas ornaments and decorations. Each had been lovingly, tenderly wrapped in tissue paper and placed in the carton the year before just as they had been placed there the year before that and the year before that.
Out of this moldering treasure chest I plucked out an equally ancient music box that was shaped like a church. It was white with a tall steeple and had sparkles on the roof that were supposed to represent snow. Well, it had pockets of snow — my sisters and brother years before had picked off much of it. And, if truth be told, I was equally culpable.
This little church had six cellophane “stained glass” windows, three on each side, and a light bulb inside. When it was plugged in, the windows were illumined and light streamed out from the doorway and the steeple. I can remember turning out the lights in the living room and, with some effort, winding the key in the back. I listened in the dark to the gentle “Dink, da-DINK, dink” of “Silent Night” while the walls of the room were bathed in red and blue and gold from the stained glass windows of my music box church.
This Christmas Eve was, for me, my first conscious recognition that something very holy was taken place.
My parents and older siblings were running around cleaning and cooking and doing all the things that needed to be done for the next day. But I just sat there in the dark, with only God’s little house for light. And the angels sang “Silent Night” just for me. Indeed, something very holy was taking place. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I understood that Jesus was being born in my heart that very moment.
I think there are a couple of reasons why this wondrous event happened to me. My family had some pretty specific rituals regarding Advent and Christmas.
Advent and Christmas were considered to be distinct from one another. Related, obviously, but distinct nonetheless. There would be very simple reminders of this season of patient waiting: an advent wreath, advent calendars and the statues of Mary and Joseph on the mantle, but no baby Jesus. Not yet.
There was nothing in the house that suggested that Christmas was upon us, despite what it looked like on our street or in the mall or on TV. We didn’t even have a Christmas tree. (While we slept, Santa made a Herculean effort each and every Christmas Eve to get that tree up and decorated for each of us seven kids to find in the morning!)
But while not much was happening inside our home, much was happening inside our hearts. So much so, each Christmas morning was an explosion of joy and breath-taking wonder. My family’s preparations had mirrored the joyful expectation that Mary and Joseph must have felt during their nine-month wait for their child, the Promised One of old, to be born. And that’s when we found the baby Jesus nestled between Mary and Joseph on the fireplace mantle.
The first lesson my family taught me is that Christ is present in the here-and-now, in the ordinary-ness of everyday life. We didn’t need fanfare or balloons to announce Christ’s presence in our lives. We only needed to respond to God’s love the way that Jesus did – with compassion for the poor and outcast, and forgiveness for the wrongs done to us. God is so deeply in love with us and wants to share that love with us. Like pigs that wallow in mud, we were reminded to wallow in God’s love. We got ourselves covered from head to foot; our hair matted and caked in love. God’s love got under our fingernails and between our toes.
Our growth in holiness compelled us to cooperate even more fully in what God has already done and is currently doing in our lives so that, in the end, God’s Reign of justice, compassion and love is fully present in everyone’s life. If we can come to understand ourselves as beloved children of God, then, not only do we become transformed, but also the world is transformed into the Reign of God because we share our love with others.
I learned from my family a second great lesson: The joy and wonder I experienced upon awakening on Christmas morning is a foretaste of the great day when Christ returns in glory. Advent is that time of year when we sort of stand between two places…not quite in one or the other, but equally in both. Advent celebrates that experience of God’s Reign in the here and now, but also in the “not yet.” John the Baptizer reminds us to prepare ourselves for the coming of God’s Reign in Christ Jesus. As Catholic Christians, we are called to constant metanoia – a conversion, a change of heart, not just in ourselves and for ourselves, but on behalf of the world. We believe that Jesus will come again. And on that day of Christ, as St. Paul tells us, the salvation of God will be completed in his coming.
We actively wait. That sounds like an oxymoron. But, advent waiting implies that we are attentive to something that is going to happen. In this case, we are waiting for the wonderful day when God will reign completely in heaven and on earth. So, we are watchful. We are preparing. “The Reign of God is at hand.” Let’s make sure that we are actively pursuing God’s reign with all we are and all we do.
I’m sure that my mom has no idea how important that music box church is to me. I’m sure that my family doesn’t fully realize how well they modeled what Advent is all about. I do know that each of my siblings has had, in one way or another, an experience of the holy taking place in their hearts and in their lives.
Advent is about God’s love being born into the world anew. Let Christ be born in your heart and believe that you are a beloved child of God.
Advent is about being “clothed in righteousness,” acting and behaving as Christ would. Be yourself transformed and transform the world by your love.
Advent is about preparing for the coming of God’s Reign. Be watchful. While you are about the business of your ordinary life, take your shoes off for you already stand on holy ground.
Photo credit: The Nativity scene, waiting for Jesus to be placed in the manger. Andrea M. Parker photo. Used with permission.