On the first Sunday of Advent, I had the rare opportunity to attend Mass with only my older children, which meant that I could mostly pay attention without having to disentangle a child from my clothes or jewelry or retrieve fallen missals from beneath the pews. Any mind wandering was on me, and not my little cherubs.
I’ve heard the messages of Advent for decades, but despite their familiarity, their repetition seems both more urgent and more fruitful to me as I age. I love the interplay between preparing for this Christmas, this annual celebration of Jesus’s coming, and preparing for Jesus’s second coming.
From time to time, as a doom’s day prediction has risen to public notice, my kids have come to me, worried. I remember having the same worries when I was young. My mother shared with me that when she was a child (so, probably 1930s), the end of the world was predicted. She lay awake all night, frightened and worried, sure the end was coming.
The sun rose. Life went on. And my mom never worried about those predictions again. Since she told me that story, neither have I. It’s a lesson I’ve passed on to my own children.
I’m always careful to remind them that not only do we not know the day nor the hour of “the end,” but we also do not know our own end. I trot out the classic, “You could walk out the door and get hit by a bus.” (Ah, the comfort only Mom can give.)
So, again this year, I remind myself that not only do I not know the end, but I also don’t know my end. And so, we’re meant to prepare.
The obvious analogy is to compare awaiting the birth of the Christ child with the arrival of our own children. It falls somewhat flat in my case. None of our children have had a nursery, their own room, or even a crib. We prepared, of course, in other ways. I managed to have diapers, clothes, and an infant car seat on hand, and more importantly, there was a place in my heart for the sweet baby I’d already loved despite whatever fears or difficulties marked the pregnancy.
And yet, it’s never quite real until the baby arrives. Not until I hold the child in my arms, its arrival completely independent of my state of readiness.
And, I fear, as I try to look into my heart with objective eyes – something I’m not very good at – that I’m really not ready for Christ to arrive either.
As I repeat my rote warning about the bus making any one of us a road pancake, do I really take it to heart? A healthy fear of the Lord gives me a little spiritual boost; I make sure that I go to confession. But do I really see or am I so mired in my own sins and shortcomings that I don’t recognize them?
Our house is what people kindly call “lived-in.” These days, it’s considered quite small for six people. We’re not hoarders, but we have stuff. A steady influx of it arriving daily in the mailbox, via backpacks, plastic retail bags, and sealed in Amazon Prime tape. It’s accumulated as our priorities have shifted and life has come busy – all fodder for another post.
The point is, I don’t see my house anymore. When I stop and try to imagine what it looks like to outside eyes, “lived-in” really is way too kind. Nice euphemism, but the truth is, it’s disorganized and dirty. In some ways it’s comfortable enough. In other ways it’s not, but the work required to make it welcoming is so overwhelming that I’m frozen by inaction. Putting off again and again tackling this or that due to x, y, and z. (This really is for another post.)
How different is the 1200-square foot place I hang my proverbial hat from the place where I invite the Christ-chid to dwell? Do I really live as if I’m ready to meet my Lord and Savior? To account for all I have and haven’t done?
How much spiritual clutter am I blinded to? If could see my soul with a fraction of the clarity with which I’m trying to see my home, how horrified would I be?
And of the clutter and filth I have observed – how many times have I put off changing it? As someone who’s struggled to lose weight for decades, I’m well-versed in the “I’ll start Monday,” mentality, Monday after Monday after endless Mondays strung out into months and years where little to nothing changes.
So, my prayer this Advent is two-fold: to see with clarity where change is needed and to have the courage and tenacity to make the changes. Before the bus mows me down.
How do you use the season of Advent to prepare your heart for the coming of Christ?