As I write this column, there are two weeks until Christmas. My list of “to-dos” is very, very long. It’s 5 a.m. and I’m already overwhelmed. But when you read this column, there will be less than a week until Christmas. And, God willing, every important thing on the “do ahead” list will be finished. In our family, if it’s not finished before Dec. 21 — the day our Nicholas turns seven this year — it’s not going to be finished. That is the day the festivities begin.
How can I begin my Christmas celebration before the completion of Advent? How can I not? Seven years ago, I held that perfect baby after a perfect delivery and forevermore I knew that our celebration would begin early. We celebrate our very own Christmas miracle. Besides, have you ever tried to tell a little boy to scale it down a little for his birthday because we’re still in “preparation mode?”
So, there is a huge push in the third week of Advent, a week the Church has devoted to joy. And I am grateful for the reminder of the pink candle, lest I lose sight of the fact that these anticipatory chores are supposed to be undertaken with a spirit of quiet joy. And, with the “to-dos” safely finished, the last week of Advent’s preparations are more likely to be interior. The frantic pace slows and we begin to look at the coming feast from the depths of our souls instead of from the frantic flashing of our digital organizing tool.
The traditional St. Andrew Christmas preparatory prayer which we have said since Nov. 30 (sometimes a bit hurriedly before succumbing to utter exhaustion at night) takes on a familiar, contemplative cadence. We have learned the prayer well and its message is beginning to seep into our bones:
“Hail and blessed be the hour and moment in which the son of God was born of the most pure Virgin Mary, at midnight, in Bethlehem, in the piercing cold. In that hour vouchsafe, O my God! To hear my prayer and grant my desires, through the merits of Our Savior Jesus Christ, and of His blessed Mother. Amen.”
This prayer and most novena prayers allow us to state our intentions, to beg for favors, to ask God to grant our desires. But I have noticed, as I have prayed the prayer, that in the time from the beginning of the devotion until the time near the completion, the focus shifts from the desire to the rest of the prayer. Over time, with repetition, my gaze is taken from what I want or think I need (however good and holy that might be) to who He is and how He lives in me.
This prayer is especially effective because it transports us from the frantic pace of merrymaking and busy planning ahead into one present moment with God. Just one. As we say the prayer, we are there, in that one holy hour and moment, hail and blessed, with Him and His beautiful, gentle mother. We are there marveling at the indescribable softness of the curve of a newborn cheek. We are there, beginning to understand what this baby means in our lives. And we are there, on bended knee, trying to comprehend the incomprehensible sacrifice that lies ahead for this humble, holy family.
And if we are there, we prepare our hearts for Him. We leave the busy “Martha” days of preparation and sit like Mary beside the holy crib. We hold a vigil familiar and precious to every mother as we watch and wonder at every stuttering, sighing, newborn breath. And the air is sweeter than we’ve ever known. Our hearts are filled with that quiet joy and our hands — once so busy with buying and baking and wrapping — are filled with Him.