First Sunday of Advent—December 1, 2013
R. Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord
A little boy asked his mother where he came from, and also where she had come from as a baby. His mother gave him a tall tale about a beautiful white-feathered bird. The boy asked his grandmother the same question and received a variation on the bird story. Outside to his playmate he said, "You know, there hasn't been a normal birth in our family for three generations."
A normal birth. . . hmmm. . . what exactly is that? Imagine that a baby is on the way . . . what do you need to do to prepare? Perhaps not a frequent question that you might be considering, men—but use your imagination!
According to babyzone.com, some of the things one might expect to be necessary for a birth: Among other things in first three months: 1) Begin to watch nutritional intake: folic acid, vitamins 2) Cease: alcohol, smoking, reduce caffeine. Among other things in three months of the pregnancy: Begin to prepare your nursery Among other things in last three months: A remarkable suggestion: “Prepare yourself for labor and delivery.” NB: Can a mother really prepare herself for this?
Dare I summarize? Begin to take in things that will nourish the baby, avoid intake of things that will harm the baby, prepare a space for the baby, prepare yourself for the labor and delivery.
Today, the Church enters its annual period of preparation for the birth of a child, the Child Jesus. Of course, he is already born—but what can we do to prepare the way for Christ’s rebirth in our lives and in our hearts? The gospel parable of the house owner and the thief suggests a need to prepare for this unpredictable coming: “Stay awake and do not let your house be broken into. So too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.” In our efforts to prepare ourselves for the coming of the Son of Man, the Christ child at Christmas, can we use the directives to a new mother as our guide for our advent preparation to take full advantage of this time given us before Christmas?
FIRST—Begin to take in things that will nourish the baby. What things can we “consume” that will nourish the presence of God within us? 1) Prayer with the scriptures, particularly those of each of the Sundays of Advent and then the Christmas readings—maybe take some extra time before or after each of these Masses to spend special time with these scripture readings. 2) Some time of study about the faith, especially about who we understand Jesus to be and who he is for us. With the time we have, let us consume it with some extra prayer and study.
SECOND—Avoid the intake of things that will harm the baby. In some parts of our Church throughout history, Advent has been seen as a “little Lent,” where we strive to remove things from our lives that are obstacles to God’s coming—sin assailed by acts of penance. What is in your life that will be an obstacle for Christ being born anew in you? With what must you no longer feed your heart if Christ is to reign fully there? In this “little Lent,” it’s again time to reject these things. At each Eucharist, ask Christ to give you the strength you need to battle against these obstacles of his coming. Finally, take the opportunity to receive God’s life giving gift of forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, when our confession of sin and need for forgiveness is met with freedom from sin and freedom in our hearts. During this season of Advent, let us stop consuming the sinful practices that will “harm our baby,” that is keep Christ from dwelling fully within us.
THIRD—Prepare a space for the baby. New parents say that a new baby changes everything—their lives are wonderfully, marvelously turned upside down! Is there room in your life for a new birth of the Christ Child? On what are you spending time? Can this be adjusted to permit more time to know Christ, to serve Christ, to be Christ? This is a great time to assess life and make some resolutions—do I need to set some new priorities? Are there things, even good things, that I will need to set aside so that I can do even greater things—to know and love God, and to serve God and God’s people with my life? This is the time to think and plot my course—how can I make more space to know Christ, serve Christ, and live the life of a Christian more fully?
FOURTH AND FINALLY—Prepare yourself for the labor and delivery. As any veteran mother can tell you—there is no preparing for labor and delivery! Jesus too predicts this when he speaks of the coming of the Son of Man—“at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.” Christ will come, as he always does, in new and surprising ways, well beyond our control and in much different ways that we could ever expect! The good news is that he will come in ways much better than we could expect—for not only are God’s ways not our ways, but God’s ways are so much better than we could ever imagine.
Christ at Christmas looks like a small, innocent babe—but in reality he like the thief of the gospel! Let us use this sacred season of Advent to prepare for a new birth of this Blessed Bandit, who will come anew to steal us away into the fullness of life. Let us do our part to prepare, so that when he comes anew, in his always remarkable, surprising way, his rebirth for us will be into more vivid life.