Why Advent Should Terrify You

Every year since I was a little girl, my mother and I go to a sing-along of Handel’s incredible masterpiece, the Messiah, during Advent. We bundle up, grab our music scores, find a seat with our fellow altos, and sing our hearts out. If you’ve never really listened to the Messiah you must do it this Advent.

It begins with the words of the biblical prophets foretelling the coming of Our Lord. Then it draws from St. Luke’s Gospel and shares the joy of the Nativity. It masterfully weaves Scripture together to carry the listener to Calvary and on to the Resurrection. It’s beautiful. And if you can sit through a performance with dry eyes, you’re not paying enough attention.

Each year I notice something that’s never struck me before and last year, it was the words of the prophets. These were the words that surprised me:

Thus saith the Lord, the Lord of hosts: Yet once a little while and I will shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. And I will shake all nations; and the desire of all nations shall come. (Haggai 2: 6-7)

Well that sounds…..scary. The desire of all nations is, of course, Jesus. But what is this about shaking the heavens and the earth? That image didn’t seem to fit in with the room full of sing-alongers wearing Christmas sweaters and looking forward to snacking on cookies and punch after the performance.

I don’t enjoy being shaken up. I like to be in control. I like predictability. I like security. But that’s not what the Incarnation offers us! God himself wasn’t born of a woman to share in our humanity so that I could be comfortable. He came to shake us up. Shake us out of our apathy. Shake us out of our false security. Shake us out of our sin.

And it gets worse! As the music of the Messiah continues, a soloist stands up to sing the words of Malachi 3:2:

But who may abide the day of His coming, and who shall stand when He appeareth? For He is like a refiner’s fire.

It’s gone from scary to terrifying! When He comes, no one can stand before him. Advent, “the coming,” is not just a heart-warming event for Christmas cards–instead, we’re asked who can abide the day of His coming? For He is like a refiner’s fire, the heat that purifies precious metals, removing all that’s flawed. If He is the refiner’s fire, then we are the metal being purified. And that sounds more than uncomfortable, it sounds excruciating.

We’ve made a huge mistake. We’ve made the Incarnation safe and comfortable. We like it warm and fuzzy with soft lambs bleating as they rest on clean hay. And, yes, it is beautiful and joyful and splendid. But we’ve sanitized it and we’ve forgotten how terrifying it is that God shares our humanity and comes like a earthquake, like a fire. To shake us up, and to purify us.

So how do we move from abject terror at the idea of the Incarnation to the Joy of Christmas? I think it has to do with letting go of the sin we cling to. We have to submit. We have to lay down our false security, our desire for control, and let Him shake us up. We have to offer our hearts to Him so that He can consume all our sin with the fire of his immeasurable love until we are stripped of all impurity. And it won’t happen in just one Advent season. We’re looking at a lifetime.

And who can stand when he appeareth?

As I meditated on this verse, I considered the image of Our Lady at the Annunciation, kneeling and saying “be it unto me according to thy word.” Who can stand? We certainly cannot. But we can kneel like Mary, giving our own “fiat” and offering our hearts to be shaken up and our sin to be burned away.

The first Sunday of Advent is called Stir Up Sunday as the opening collect of the Mass is “Stir up Thy might, we beg Thee, and come.” Are we ready to say that prayer? May we be prepared to desire His coming, be shaken, and be consumed by the fire of his love. May He stir up our hearts this Advent and mold us into what he desires us to be.

image: Shutterstock

Haley Stewart


Haley Stewart is a writer, speaker, blogger, Catholic convert, mother of three, and wife to Daniel of the big beard and the green thumb. She's a homeschooling, bacon-eating, coffee-drinking southern girl with a flair for liturgical feasts and a penchant for bright red lipstick Haley muses about faith, motherhood, and books at her blog Carrots for Michaelmas and is the author of Feast! Real Food, Reflections, and Simple Living for the Christian Year. She also podcasts at Fountains of Carrots.

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  • Cincinnatus1775


  • JamesIgnatius

    Though I am not a proponent of human cloning, this woman is a strong argument for it!
    Well said, Haley.

  • catholicanuck

    Very good. I think we need to start thinking a lot more about things being shaken up. We are coming into a time when lots of shaking up is going to happen whether we want it or not.

  • Mary

    Superb. Thank you for the reminder, Haley.

  • Christy Isinger

    So good Haley! I almost want to say, Advent is pretty badass.

  • Awesome, Haley. How right you are. It IS terrifying, the whole idea of the Incarnation. Fr. Barron talks a little bit about that in the Catholicism DVD series and it really struck me. Now I simply must go listen to Handel’s Messiah. 🙂

  • James Maedoc

    What you write reminds me of an image from the television series Babylon 5 by J. Michael Straczynski. In the season 3 episode, “Passing through Gethsemane,” there is a concluding scene with the one character being crucified, but the music being played behind the scene is the Christmas song, Puer Natus Est… which is what you highlight and expound upon even further here from Handel’s Messiah.

  • Debbie

    I love reading your posts, Haley! Thank you, once again, for a very thought-provoking, wonderful reflection.

  • Haley, incredible article! Loved this: “We’ve made the Incarnation safe and comfortable. We like it warm and fuzzy with soft lambs bleating as they rest on clean hay. And, yes, it is beautiful and joyful and splendid. But we’ve sanitized it and we’ve forgotten how terrifying it is that God shares our humanity and comes like a earthquake, like a fire. To shake us up, and to purify us.”

  • Anne Cregon Parks

    Wonderful – loved it.

  • chaco

    I’m thinking of a Christmas hymn with the words: ” Angels tremble as they gaze.”

  • William Gibson

    Thanks to you, Haley, and to Our Loving God who inspired you in this meditation and writing. I plan to read this with our family today, and to get a cd set of The Messiah for our use this Advent. Prepare ye the way of The Lord!

  • Praise and glory be to God forever!

  • Scout

    “Brethren, knowing that it is now the hour for us to rise from sleep. For now our salvation is nearer than when we believed. The night is passed and the day is at hand.” Romans 13:11-14, Epistle for the 1st Sunday of Advent

  • I haven’t watched the series, but I want to! And if you felt compelled to listen to Handel after reading, then I’m well pleased with how the post turned out 🙂

  • Thanks, Debbie, that’s very kind.

  • Thanks, Ryan!

  • NYCFiredog

    The Advent was about Our Lord’s FIRST coming. Now we are awaiting His return. From what Our Lady has said in her apparitions and the bizarro world we now inhabit, it would seem that we are getting pretty close to that time. And YES, it will be Glorious when He comes, but it won’t be pretty up to that point. And we better be ready. And we have a duty to pray for conversion of the world as our part in this great drama.

  • Jennifer

    Wow. Amen, amen, amen!

  • HV Observer

    I have those passages from ‘Messiah’ on my iPod. Handel does a great job of “word painting” in them. The music really shakes at “shakes all nations,” and the “refiner’s fire” is very firey. It might have been helpful to put audio links there to illustrate.