Every year at my house the same old routine begins. Not long after Thanksgiving, we begin itching to "get into the Christmas spirit." We make the family trip to buy a Christmas tree. This circus-like event usually involves my wife Sheryl and me looking at trees while our boys (5 and 3) pretend they're in a forest as they chase each other around and among the trees. At home, I stretch and groan as I try to get every box of decorations down from the top of the closet. We put up the lights and the nativity scenes, the candles, the garland, and the stockings. Within a few days, the gifts begin appearing around the tree. When it is all said and done, the house has been transformed and we claim that "we're ready for Christmas now."
But are we?
The line from the hymn Joy to the World rings in my ear and captures my thoughts, "Let every heart prepare him room." While the house is ready for Christmas, it seems the larger question is, "Is my heart ready for Christmas?"
The season of Advent calls us to prepare not just our home, but our hearts. We're asked to consider this question once more, "Who are we waiting for?" Listen to some excerpts from the Sunday Mass readings of Advent:
"Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths."
"They will see the glory of the LORD, the splendor of our God."
"Say to those whose hearts are frightened: Be strong, fear not! Here is your God, he comes with vindication; with divine recompense he comes to save you."
"You too must be patient. Make your hearts firm, because the coming of the Lord is at hand."
"Therefore the Lord himself will give you this sign: the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel"
"For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins."
"Brothers and sisters: You know the time; it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep. For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed."
It is hard for those of us familiar with the Christmas story to re-grasp every year the utter power of this event. But if we listen through the advertising assault of sales and credit lines, the sappy T.V. movies, and calls to sit in Santa's lap, we hear the voices of the prophets begging us to prepare. We hear the voices of St. Paul and others reminding us that we need to wake from our sleep. They all call us to prepare because God Himself is coming to us. Can we have ears to hear and eyes to see the power, grace and love of the Incarnation? 1 John says it so very well:
"This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him." (1 John 4:9)
It's time to re-focus. What we are waiting for, really?
Our house is ready for guests, for presents, and even for Santa. But I pray that in the remaining days of Advent I will hear the voices that call me to prepare my heart. Is my heart cleaned (Advent is a very appropriate time for Confession), is my mind focused, my soul fed by regular Eucharist? Am I really ready for the coming of my King, my Lord, my Savior? Am I ready to receive such an extravagant display of God's love?
Ready or not, He is coming.
"May every heart prepare him room. And heaven and nature sing…and heaven…"