I have just finished my annual routine of climbing into the attic and hauling out the box that stores our much-used Advent wreath. Candles? Check. Prayers? Check. Matches? We’ll need to get more of those.
Like most families, the season of Advent falls right in the middle of a very busy time. School, work, extracurricular activities and many other commitments mean that our home is a constant whirr of activity. Add to that the demands of the Advent season and the coming of the annual gift-giving frenzy.
Our Advent wreath, placed in its usual spot on the living-room coffee table, sends a message to our family that it’s time to get our temporal and spiritual home ready for Jesus’ birthday. The wreath is like a beacon that guides us to the home of the Holy Family so that we can learn from Mary and Joseph how to wait in hope for Jesus.
An approximately 70 mile journey from Galilee to Bethlehem with a very pregnant woman would have been a long, exhausting, uncomfortable journey. Mary and Joseph would have traveled light, carrying only the things they would need to welcome a newborn baby. They wouldn’t have taken anything unnecessary because that would make the trip more difficult.
We can learn from their example by removing from our lives anything that will weigh us down on our journey to see baby Jesus. Now is a good time to simplify and renew our families, carefully folding and packing only that which we need for the next four weeks. As we de-clutter our lives, we can’t forget to include the most important work of cleaning out the dirt that has accumulated in our souls. The Sacrament of Confession wipes our souls clean so that when we stand before the manger to greet the babe, He will delight in our purity.
We can be sure that prayer was central to Mary’s and Joseph’s preparation: silent, constant, contemplative prayer as well as vocal worship. Their daily work was a prayer. The necessary tasks of getting ready for a new baby would have been done lovingly for the good of the other and offered willingly to God. There would have been joyful anticipation as Mary prepared the swaddling clothes. Joseph may have made a little crib, being careful to smooth away all the splinters and rough edges, lovingly seeing to every detail of his work.
In our homes, Christmas preparations can be frenzied and soul-zapping or they can be undertaken in the spirit of prayerful work, doing what needs to be done for the love of our family and offered to God. We can remain calm knowing that it is God we are trying to please and not the world that has enticed us to place so many unrealistic expectations on ourselves.
Every mother knows that with pregnancy comes fatigue and the need to nurture ourselves. Mary probably felt all these things but instead of turning inward, she hastened to her older cousin Elizabeth who was pregnant too. Mary didn’t dwell on herself; she recognized the need of her cousin. Joseph the carpenter would have continued the necessary work of building items for other people even as he first struggled with his doubts and then later as he prepared for the arrival of his foster son. Together, Mary and Joseph lived the great commandment of loving their neighbour and through that, they loved God.
During Advent, do we think of those who are less fortunate? Do we give of our time, skills and resources to ease the burden of others? Are we patient with our loved ones? Are we patient with ourselves?
Before his birth, Jesus was already present to His earthly parents. Nestled safely in His mother’s womb, He accompanied them throughout the day. They would have felt His presence as they worked, prayed and rested.
Jesus accompanies us too during Advent, in our hearts, minds and souls. In every tabernacle in the world, He is present. He is with us physically, hidden in the Holy Eucharist and inviting us to come to Him in adoration. He is also present in our priests, alter Christi. As St. Jean Vianney often said: “The priesthood is the love of the heart of Jesus.”
During this Advent season, we journey to Bethlehem in our hearts as we live out our call to be holy like Mary and Joseph. As they waited in peace and joy, we wait too. As they prayed for His birth, we pray for Him to come to us. As they shared Christ’s love with their neighbours, we minister to ours. As they walked with Him throughout their days, so do we adore Him in our tabernacles, join ourselves with Him in the Eucharist and recognize Him in our priests.
Come thou long expected Jesus. The time is short. The journey is long. Jesus will be here soon. Let us make sure we are ready for Him.