Advent is a wondrous season of preparation as we make ready our homes and beautify our Churches; decorating for a beautiful upcoming Christmas celebration. It’s not all about the decorations, wrappings, and music, though. It’s easy to get caught up in the exteriors. Yet, we must also take the time to prepare our hearts to receive the Christ Child. We can purge ourselves of some of the clutter that constantly fills our minds and our hearts to make room to allow Jesus in. "O marvelous exchange! Man’s Creator has become man, born of the Virgin. We have been made sharers in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity" (Antiphon I of Evening Prayer for January 1st).

We read in the Catechism of the Catholic Church "When the Church celebrates the liturgy of Advent each year, she makes present this ancient expectancy of the Messiah, for by sharing in the long preparation for the Savior’s first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desire for his second coming. By celebrating the precursor’s birth and martyrdom, the Church unites herself to his desire: ‘He must increase, but I must decrease’" (# 524).

As we renew our "ardent desire" and prepare for the celebration of our Savior’s birth, in this period of waiting and anticipation, let’s take some time out to pray, meditate, and recall that Our Savior, Jesus was born in a simple stable into a poor family. We know that His mother, Mary and stepfather Joseph led a challenging life and were initially shunned because of Mary’s pregnancy and then turned away from a suitable place in which to give birth; being forced to seek shelter in an animal’s home instead.

Ironically Simple and Quiet

For centuries, prophets, succeeding one another in Israel, had announced Jesus’ coming. Yet, our Savior’s birth took place very humbly and quietly; hardly what one would expect for a King’s birth—a holy occurrence of extreme magnitude. Humility, simplicity, holiness and silence surrounded the Holy Family in Bethlehem. Baby, Jesus rested His Sacred head on a bed of straw in a simple manger when He was not on his mother’s breast. Common shepherds were the first witnesses to the breathtaking awe-inspiring event of the birth of the Messiah.

Heaven’s glory, so deserving of a posh setting and splendor with trumpets sounding, was made manifest in sheer poverty. Amazing! And as we await our Lord’s birth in this season of quiet and anticipation, most of us are surrounded not with the blessing of simplicity and silence, but instead, with glitz and glitter, noise, bold advertising, and even shoving and fighting for parking spaces at malls in a race for sale items, the latest iPod, or cell phone. Our holy season has been reduced to a preoccupation about whether or not we can manage to get our hands on a Wii Nintendo system or some other "needed" electronic item before it’s sold out, rather than striving to come closer to Our Lord in prayer—such a severe contrast to the reality of Jesus’ birth—of the true meaning of His coming to us in the form of an innocent Child.

Focus on the Essential

We do know that to enter the kingdom of Heaven we must become like a child. Jesus did this literally for us. We need to humble ourselves to become little. We absolutely need to make time for prayer. Visits to the Blessed Sacrament will bring us very close to Jesus and give us amazing peace, grace, and strength for our journey. When we cannot get out, prayer within our domestic churches is just fine and pleasing to God. Retreating deep into our hearts, seeking our Lord throughout our busy days of Advent will keep us in communication with Him and help us focus on what is essential during a season of hustle and bustle.

While we take time out during what is meant to be a season of quiet, to pause and contemplate, what will we learn about the mystery of our Lord’s simplicity and humility wrapped in swaddling clothes and laying in a manger? What can we do to recapture and rekindle this holy time of year amid the chaotic atmosphere of our time? Let’s begin in our families, slowing down to pause and pray, seeking moments throughout our days to offer our hearts fully to God. Taking the time to give of our time which is really a priceless gift and not something we will find at a shopping mall.

Parents should make the time for prayer within their families no matter how busy they feel they are. Teaching children to take even a moment out each morning to greet our Lord, thanking Him for a new day, offering it all to Him, and asking Him to use them, will help transform an ordinary day into opportunities for grace and redemption. Parents should make use of the dinner table as a time of coming together, lighting the Advent wreath, praying together and enjoying each other’s company away from the busy world outside the doors of the home.

Lighting the Way

We can be a light to the world, to all around us, much like the star that drew the Magi to the Christ Child. Let’s think about what can we do or what changes we can make to become a light and lead the way for others. How can our words and actions, by God’s grace, help to convert hearts? Let us pray that we will draw others to Jesus because they see Him living in us. The light within us—Christ’s light—will draw others to the blessedness of our Christianity.

"Only when Christ is formed in us will the mystery of Christmas be fulfilled in us. Christmas is the mystery of this marvelous exchange," we learn from the Catechism of the Catholic Church (# 526.) Let us pray that Christmas will be truly fulfilled in us all as we strive to become "little," allowing Christ to live through us, lighting the way to Heaven.

copyright 2008 Donna-Marie Cooper O'Boyle