The Advent season is a time of waiting, longing, expectancy, and preparation. We find ourselves in this liturgical season and a new liturgical year, during the busiest time of the year. There are Christmas parties to attend, gifts to buy, meals to plan and cook, and a whole host of other obligations that often lead to December passing in a whirl.
It is not incidental that the season of silence and waiting falls in line with a busy time of year. It is when we are busiest that we need prayer and silence the most, but it’s also the time we tend to forget it most.
The Church gives us the gift of the Advent season in order to help us focus on higher goods, spiritual goods, as we prepare to celebrate the great mystery of the Incarnation. Our salvation is only possible because the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. The Church reminds us of this great truth and the promise of salvation as she leads us to enter more deeply into the mystery of the comings of Christ.
We are called to walk with the People of Israel as they await the coming of the Messiah. We are reminded that we are a people who wait in joyful hope for the coming of Christ at the end of time. We also wait in anticipation at each Mass as the priest speaks the words of consecration and as Our Lord’s body, blood, soul, and divinity is made present on the altar. Advent is meant to be a season of silent expectancy and hopeful waiting for the coming of Christ in history and in our own souls.
Making room for Christ
Since Christmas comes each year, we run the risk of going through the motions without ever entering into the depths of the Incarnation. We cannot encounter Christ in a more profound way if our entire Advent season is filled with hustle and bustle. We must enter into the silence of prayer where God leads us into the communion of love within the Most Holy Trinity. The Holy Family’s plight as they seek a place for Christ to be born, demonstrates for us the necessity of opening ourselves to Christ in an even more profound way during Advent.
After traveling from Nazareth, St. Joseph looked for a room for Mary to bore her Son and God, but he quickly discovered that there was no room in the busy town of Bethlehem, which was overcrowded from the census ordered by Caesar Augustus. Venerable Fulton Sheen writes in Life of Christ:
Joseph was full of expectancy as he entered the city of his family, and was quite convinced that he would have no difficulty finding lodging for Mary, particularly on account of her condition. Joseph went from house to house only to find each one crowded. He searched in vain for a place where He, to Whom heaven and earth belonged, might be born. Could it be that the Creator would not find a home in creation?
There was no room available in the crowded town of Bethlehem for the Savior of the world to be born. The town was overrun, busy, and its inhabitants completely oblivious that God Himself had come to be born in their normally sleepy little town. Only the rich and those of power and prestige would be given a room in the inn. Sheen states: “…there was room for anyone who had a coin to give the innkeeper; but there was no room for Him Who came to be the Inn of every homeless heart in the world.” No lodgings were available for the true King of the Universe.
The danger for all of us in our own day is that we become overrun by the tasks at hand and focus too much on material pursuits at the expense of supernatural goods. Christmas preparations are good in themselves, but often they can distract us from the supernatural realities they are meant to represent because we get lost in the material preparations. We focus on the things of this life and not the realities and infinitely greater goods of heaven. This time of year, we often find ourselves running around with little peace and stillness. There isn’t enough time in our daily lives to enter into the mystery of the Incarnation. We do not stop to truly allow the Christ-child to enter into the depths of our souls.
Even as Catholics, we can run the risk of making no room for him in our Christmas preparations. Every time we place other priorities before prayer, we are telling Christ that there is no room in our souls for Him. We tell ourselves—much like the innkeeper who only had rooms for the wealthy and powerful—that we have much more “important” things to do. We should not be surprised, then, when we find ourselves exhausted, unprepared, and distracted when the joyful feast of Christmas finally arrives.
Advent is the time of preparation, not primarily in activity, but in opening our souls to Him in prayer and to allow Him to prune away our sins and weaknesses that keep us from Him. This requires set time each day for the silence of prayer; free of distractions, to-do lists, calendars, buying gifts, and party planning.
Making our way to the lonely cave
When Joseph cannot find a room for Mary to give birth to Jesus, he looks beyond the busyness of the town, to a place of silence, obscurity, and poverty. Much like Our Lord in His public ministry when He’d go out to the mountain to pray, Joseph finds a place—through God’s providence—set apart for Our Lady to give birth to the Son of God.
Out to the hillside to a stable cave, where shepherds sometimes drove their flocks in time of storm, Joseph and Mary went at last for shelter. There, in a place of peace in the lonely abandonment of a cold windswept cave; there, under the floors of the world, He Who is born without a mother in heaven, is born without a father on earth…In the filthiest place in the world, a stable, Purity was born. He, Who was later to be slaughtered by men acting as beasts, was born among beasts. He, Who would call Himself the “living Bread descended from Heaven,” was laid in a manger, literally, a place to eat…There was no room in the inn, but there was room in the stable.Fulton J. Sheen, Life of Christ
The Incarnate Word is born into the world in the silence of a cave. We cannot come to meet Him if we have robbed ourselves of this precious silence. We cannot be prepared for His coming at Christmas, the end of time in the Parousia, or even in the Holy Eucharist, if we are not people of prayer and silence.
The struggles of Fallen man to rightly order all things to God continues to this day. It continues within our own hearts and minds as we seek daily conversion. Each day we battle our own sinful tendency to make no room within our souls for God. This time of year, more than any other, shows this struggle in a more visible way. Many obligations are placed upon us and we want to meet those obligations, but often we do it at the expense of our spiritual lives.
Our first and primary obligation is to put God at the center of everything and to seek Him in the silence of our souls. We all fail at different times to leave the busyness of Bethlehem in order to walk to the lonely, cold, silent cave where Christ waits to meet us. We cannot enter into the true depths of joy that await us if we never make that journey in prayer. If we do not make the pilgrimage to the stable cave throughout Advent, then we will not be ready for the coming of Christ at Christmas. If we do not seek Him in the silent places, then we will not be ready for the Second Coming, and we will not be ready for His coming in the Holy Eucharist at Mass.
Advent is the season that the Church gives to us to help us make room in our souls for the coming of the Incarnate Word. It is a season that we are meant to live throughout the year as we constantly wait for Christ to transfigure us into the saints He is calling us to become. We must seek Him out in the silent, lonely places within us. This is only accomplished through union with Him in prayer, the Sacraments, and a life of self-emptying charity. Come Christmas, will Christ find room in our souls?