In the season of Advent each of us may ask ourselves: what do I expect? Advent starts a new liturgical year full of possibilities to deepen our spiritual perspectives and closeness with God. Advent season invites us to awaken new hope in God’s plan and promises. Advent can be a season of healing through deeper awareness that the Christ Child desires to be born anew in you. The Savior arrives to save, heal, and deliver you. His coming is profoundly personal. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (Jn 3:16).
The Incarnation was the fulfillment of the ancient expectancy of a Messiah, healer and deliverer of his people. The Catechism teaches, “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” (524).
First, let’s consider the experience of expectation and preparation. Think of a couple expecting a child, a person waiting for the results of an exam, someone expecting the arrival of a friend, the anticipation of someone meeting a loved one. According to Pope Benedict XVI,
“We could say that man is alive so long as he expects, so long as hope remains alive in his heart. Men and women can be recognized by their expectations, and that our moral and spiritual stature may be measured by what our hopes are.”
Advent is an opportunity to renew our commitment to Christ as Lord of our life. Oftentimes in the lives of the saints we read of how they made “acts of oblation” during Advent or Lenten retreats. I find this to be very efficacious because with each passing year, I’m changed, and circumstances of my life are different also. Therefore each “act of oblation” or “re-consecration” of myself to the Lord, brings a fresh offering with new perspective of self- offering. In preparing for Christmas we have weeks to reset our spiritual life. Likely, this won’t happen if we don’t prioritize our time spent with the Lord. The Church’s liturgy certainly helps us to focus.
The liturgical readings of the First Sunday in Lent remind us of three points: 1) In those days, my people will live in safety (Jer. 33:14-16, 2); Paul prays for Christians to grow in fervor and holiness (I Thes. 3:12-4:2); 3) Preparing for the final day when Christ will come as a Judge (Lk 21: 25-28). It is beautiful to reflect on how, with Christ, we can live in the safety of divine love, grow in holiness, and therefore, be prepared for the final day when we will give an account to God, and hopefully be with him eternally in heaven.
Secondly, let’s consider the experience of hope. Hope is the theological virtue “by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit” (C 1817). The arrival of the Christ Child moves us in a uniquely human and mystical way. The gift of the Incarnation awakens us to the transcendence of God; the beauty of Incarnate Love. Saints such as St. Theresa of Avila speak of our need to love the humanity of Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word. The Christ Child touches our humanity as only a little baby can.
Pope Benedict XVI reminds us, “The Child Jesus points us to this primal truth of human existence: we must be born again. We must be accepted, and we must let ourselves be accepted. We must transform our dependency into love and become free therein. We must be born again, laying aside our pride and becoming a child. In the Child Jesus we must recognize and receive the fruit of life. This is what Christmas brings to us: new life!”
The expectancy of any child requires due diligence, practical, and spiritual preparation. The expectancy of the Christ Child requires the same so that we may deeply experience the Nativity as a joyful, liberating conversion of heart. To the degree that we make room in our hearts, and order our lives to Christ, we will experience His birth as new life within. He alone is the fulfillment of all our desires.
Thirdly, let’s consider how Advent season presents an occasion for healing. Advent is considered a penitential time with an opportunity to turn away from any darkness (sin, vice) in our lives. It’s the coming of Christ as the light of the world that overcomes the darkness. Advent invites us to ponder the past, present, and future so we become more aware, and grateful for the Child Jesus who redeems our past, present, and future. His Presence means that our Divine Physician has come. If you are in need of healing, physical or spiritual, bring your desire to the Crib and the Cross. They are joined mystically together by the scarlet love of the Lamb of God whose life and blood wash you clean.
Reflecting on the Christ Child can awaken the child within us. Healing can occur when we strive for spiritual childhood. The Christ Child comes to identify with human limitations and makes himself dependent upon a human mother and father. He teaches us how to trust in the Eternal Father and the divine will that is all goodness.
Meditating on the beauty of the details of the Nativity can also be a healing exercise if we conclude that the Holy Family is our family too. Yes, you are a cherished member of their family and their mission includes you.
Silence, prayer, Eucharistic life, Confession, lectio divina, all of these can lead to inner healing. Often it happens that when a person seeks the Church’s help for a diabolical disturbance in his or her life, part of the process of deliverance and healing is what is called a “thirty day prescription” which is basically a rule of life, a regimen of spiritual exercises. Oftentimes, after thirty days of living an intentional spiritual life, the person is delivered without the need of the exorcist. It’s not surprising because Christ is the chief exorcist; the closer you are to him, the freer and happier you become. The Christ Child is the undoing of the devil.
The vulnerability of the Christ Child often allow us to become more vulnerable and thus, the closed, guarded chambers of our hearts are pried open by the rush of divine love. We can’t contemplate the Christ Child without thinking of His Mother—her yes, her total gift of self.
Pope Benedict XVI called Mary “the woman of Advent”. He declared, “learn from her” in order to “live a daily life with a new spirit, with feelings of profound expectation which only the coming of God can satisfy.”
Through the ancient expectancy of Messiah, no one could have imagined that the Messiah would be born of a humble girl like Mary, who had been promised in marriage to Joseph. Pope Benedict said, “Neither could she have imagined it; yet in her heart the expectation of the Savior was so great, her faith and hope so ardent, that in her He could find a worthy mother.”
Let us pray for one another –that we not be robbed of the transformative possibility that Advent holds. Let us enter into this new liturgical year with holy daring, and expectations of miracles, divine surprises, transformation. Let us prepare well that our joy may be complete when we receive our newborn King, and celebrate His birth. Let us draw closer to the Christ Child through dedicated spiritual preparation and expectancy.
image: St Ambrose Church, West Cliff Road by Alwyn Ladell / Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)