Two nights ago, my husband asked me to help him put something in the garage. It was there—out of earshot of our daughter—that he told me that he is coughing up blood again. His new medication is not working as we had hoped it would and he needs to go back on prednisone until we can figure out what to do about his chronic illness moving forward. We both know another flare up means more unseen irreparable damage to his lungs. There we stood on a dark, cold Advent night, the Cross we carry as a family grows heavy once more.
The Cross casts its long shadow over the manger where the Christ-child lays. The same is true for each one of us, even in the midst of the joys and festivities of the season. This reality is more tangible for all of us at different periods in our lives. We come face-to-face with the Cross when we are called to shoulder the burdens of chronic or terminal illness, the loss of a loved one, unemployment, loneliness, poverty, infertility, or any other affliction. It is in those times when we see that Christmas wouldn’t matter without the Paschal Mystery.
It would be impossible to accept the painful reality that my husband—over the course of a few years or decades—will slowly drown in his own blood, if it were not for the joy of the Incarnation and the love shown to us on the Cross on Good Friday. Christmas only makes sense in the light of Calvary and Easter morning. The manger and the Cross point to the same truth. That Christ came to die for us, so that we could have eternal life and to free us from the bonds of sin and death.
It was not so much that His birth cast a shadow on His life, and thus led to His death; it was rather that the Cross was there from the beginning, and it cast its shadow backward to His birth. Ordinary mortals go from known to the unknown submitting themselves to forces beyond their control; hence we can speak of their “tragedies.” But He went from the known to the known, from the reason for His coming, namely, to be “Jesus” or “Savior,” to the fulfillment of His coming, namely, the death on the Cross.– Venerable Fulton J. Sheen, Life of Christ, 30.
The invitation the Christ-child extends to us each Christmas, is to walk the same path to Calvary. In the mysterious gift of the Incarnation, we come to see what love will cost us. It will cost us everything. This is the road to joy and the ultimate way to happiness: to die-to-self.
Christ entered into the world in poverty on a cold, dark night in a cave. He invites us into that poverty of spirit in our daily lives as we learn to be emptied of our own wants and desires so that we can give everything over to God. Each time my husband tells me that he is coughing up blood, I am reminded of the heavy Cross we have been given. God shows me that my plans and my ways are not His own. It’s the same reminder that I’m given each time I want another child, but I once more have to accept that it is not God’s will. It’s the reminder I am given every time I must battle to offer up every ounce of my suffering for priests. Our lives are not our own. This life is about surrendering in love to the Cross.
To go to the Christ-Child in the manger in the dead of night, to walk that lonely road to the cave, is to be willing to surrender our entire being to Him. We cannot enter into the mystery, awe, wonder, and joy of Christmas without giving ourselves fully to God. The joy we experience in this life and the next is dependent upon how much we are willing to give over to God. He pours His infinite love into us, but we are the ones who must choose to accept it and what is required in that Divine Love. The cost is high in our Fallen state because love is the Cross.
Standing on that cold December night with my husband in the middle of Advent, reminded me that the pilgrimage to the manger, requires a willingness on my part to surrender everything to God on the Cross. Advent is a time of waiting and preparation, but we can only be prepared for the joy of the Incarnation in the measure that we give ourselves over to Christ. We must say “yes” to our own Crosses. We must remember that Christmas is not separate from Good Friday. They are unified in purpose and in the person of Jesus Christ.
Let us take these final days of Advent to surrender our lives more fully to Christ. May He fill us with the comfort, strength, and peace we need to make our pilgrim way to the manger at Christmas no matter the Crosses we are asked to carry in this life. He is always with us, especially on dark nights when the weight of the Cross threatens to knock us to the ground. He is walking with us in these final Advent days and He will be waiting for each one of us in the manger at Christmas.