The word that keeps coming to mind during this Advent season is surrender. It has been a difficult year. There has been much illness, death, uncertainty, isolation, and unrest. People have lost loved ones and livelihoods. As we begin our journey to the cold silent cave that will hold our Savior on Christmas, we take with us our own nothingness. We can only truly approach Him if we surrender everything to Him.
Much will be asked of us in the coming weeks as we approach the Christmas season. Many people will be unable to see vulnerable family members to celebrate the holidays, some will die, and others will lie alone sick in hospital beds. There are already quarantines and lockdowns increasing across the country and in other nations. My own family had a close call for my immunocompromised husband near Halloween and had to spend 14 days in quarantine. A close friend of mine is in quarantine after close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19, which led to her having to cancel Thanksgiving plans with family.
This is the reality we face as we approach Christmas in a year that has contained much darkness. Sacrifices will be asked of us that we didn’t expect or want to make. How we prepare spiritually now for these possibilities and for disappointments during the Christmas season will determine whether we are free to enter the light of Christmas, regardless of our circumstances. We must surrender everything to Christ now.
I write this as someone who is learning surrender right alongside everyone else. My own Advent is shaping up to be one that is largely isolated and homebound due to chronic health issues that are not improving. This isn’t how I expected to be spending the Advent and Christmas seasons. Largely unable to take part in the festivities—especially the food—because I’m zapped of energy and can’t eat most things, but this is God’s will for me at this point in time. He is asking me to surrender, as He asks all of us to surrender. He’s calling me to be obedient to His will, which if I/we do so, opens up new spiritual horizons within our souls.
Obedience is not an act of coercion, it is letting go, surrendering to the ocean of God’s goodness All this leads to a fundamental change in the way we deal with the whole of reality, everything appears in a new light, it is therefore a true “conversion,” faith is a “change of mentality” because the God who has revealed Himself in Christ, and has made known His plan, seizes us, draws us to Himself, becomes the meaning that supports life, the rock on which it can find stability.— Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, Wednesday Catechesis First Week of Advent, December 7, 2014.
Surrender leads us to find our surety and support in God alone. We are set free from the false belief that we can make it on our own and that we don’t need anyone. In reality, we need God above everything else and we need one another. There are different ways that Christ teaches us this lesson and periods of illness and uncertainty are times in our lives when we are stripped of all sense of control. This is necessary in order for God to lead us away from our will to His will.
We can get mad and frustrated—which will happen sometimes—or we can ask Christ for the grace to surrender to His plan and to offer our sufferings in union with His. This is all we can do when things happen to us outside of our control. If our state locks things down, we find ourselves in quarantine, a loved one gets sick, or we get sick, we will be presented with a choice. We can give everything over to Him or we can turn away from Him.
Our Lord does not force us to carry our crosses. We either choose to accept them or we don’t. He invites us to follow Him on the Way of the Cross. Our cross becomes much heavier when we fight back, however. True freedom lies in surrendering our entire being to Him, so that He can help us carry the crosses of our lives that are meant to lead to our sanctification. If we choose bitterness or despair, then we will remain in darkness devoid of the light.
Advent is a season that leads us into the depths of darkness before the radiance of Christmas. This pandemic is leading us into darkness in order to bring about renewal. It is through suffering that God accomplishes His greatest and most glorious works and plans. The Cross leads to the Resurrection. The darkness of Advent leads to the joy of Christmas. The secret is that we must cling to Him in the darkness as we await the dawn.
All of us must take the time in prayer to surrender our will to God’s will. Through this practice of habitual surrender, we will be set free from the anger and frustration that can overtake us in times of trial and affliction. Our lives are not our own. They are His. Our loved ones’ lives are not theirs or ours. They are His. This is hard to remember, especially when we become afraid of losing someone. Part of trusting in God is giving everything to Him.
The highest perfection consist not in interior favors, or in great raptures, or in visions, or in the spirit of prophesy, but in the bringing of our wills so closely into conformity with the will of God that, as soon as we realize He wills anything, we desire it ourselves with all our might, and take the bitter with the sweet.— St. Teresa of Avila, The Book of Her Foundations, 5.
If things don’t go your way this Advent or Christmas, focus on surrendering everything to Christ. Regardless of what is happening in our lives or in the world, Our Savior is coming. Advent will give way to Christmas and His radiant light and love will continue to shine out into the world.
The people who walked in darknessIsaiah 9:1
have seen a great light;
Upon those who lived in a land of gloom
a light has shone.