Though Advent is happening on the liturgical calendar, the rest of the world is already celebrating Christmas with decorations in every shop window and every ad on television. There is no event on the American calendar that is so anticipated, so planned for, as that of Christmas. Media production companies, marketing firms, mall administrators, food caterers, toy manufacturers, and airlines were all thinking about and preparing for December 25th long before most of us. In truth, they were preparing, not so much for December 25th as for someone...namely, you. You were the object of their marketing meetings, their advertising campaigns, their flight scheduling, and their menus. All this preparation on your behalf should leave you with quite a special feeling, right?
Unfortunately, many people feel let down after the holidays. Annually, Christmas mysteriously raises our expectations, hopes and desires. It's as if there has been placed in our hearts a longing, a thirst, and a hunger for something that we can't quite put our finger on.
The truth is that "our hearts are restless until they rest in God." This hunger and thirst for peace and contentment lies beneath the surface of our daily schedules all throughout the year. The anticipation of Christmas awakens the realization that we are created for something, or more accurately, someone. The challenge we face is that in the midst of the busiest time of the year, with shopping, office parties and concerts, the Church calls on us to clear the way for the King of Kings to enter our lives in a more profound way. This is the message of John the Baptist in John 1:6-8, 19-28, "I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, 'Make straight the way of the Lord'"(vs 23). John's message announces that the Messiah is coming, and therefore our lives must be redirected if we are to fully receive him. How ironic; it's precisely in the most activity laden time of the year that we are called to make room for the most important person in the world, Jesus Christ.
How do we simplify our lives so that we can give ourselves to the priorities that we profess? One way that is tried by many is to place external templates upon our lives, like time systems. How many of us have eagerly pursued the organization of our new iPhone or Android? Organizational tools are certainly helpful, but employing a time system assumes we have determined priorities. David Thoreau once said, "There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root." What is the root problem? Allow me to suggest that the true explanation of the complexity of our lives is an inner one, not an outer one. Often times the outer distractions in our lives reflect an inner lack of integration. We are trying to be and do so much without our life being organized by a single, mastering life within us, Jesus Christ. This Advent season can become simplified when there is one unifying principal in our lives.
During this Advent season, Jesus is the one we are preparing to meet, but he is also the model we follow as we prepare to meet him. As we read the gospels, we begin to see that Jesus certainly had a busy life, but he had a pace to his life that kept him focused on his priorities. Just before his passion he prayed, Father, "I glorified thee on earth, having accomplished the work which thou gavest me to do" (John 17:4). Among Jesus' daily activities, prayer was a priority. It is during prayer that we determine what is the most important thing, what we should give our time and efforts toward. In prayer we scratch off our agenda those things that are not necessary, and it is in prayer that we add those things that will help us more faithfully walk as sons and daughters of God. Have you ever wondered about the content of Jesus' prayer? What did he hear from his Father? Listen to what the Catechism tells us: "His words and works are the visible manifestation of his prayer in secret" (CCC 2602). What Jesus gained in prayer became the action items in his daily to-do list.
The excitement we initially experience when the Christmas season rolls around just might be an invitation to a time of intimacy with God. Prepare the way for God to come into your life this year by responding with prayer to your heart's longing. "Whether we realize it or not, prayer is the encounter of God's thirst with ours. God thirsts that we may thirst for him" (CCC 2560).
A couple of things to do:
1. During Advent, take some time at the beginning of your day and think of a couple of ways you can prepare to meet Christ during the course of your day.
2. Sit down and think. List the differences between the greatest gift ever given to mankind and the typical gifts given at Christmas.