Merry Christmas!

As Advent comes to its fulfillment
and we find the birth of Jesus
yet again, as always,
right around the corner,
may you experience ever more of God's grace
in your minds and hearts!

Some thoughts and greetings inspired here at Villanova come with this message.

“Today you will know that the Lord is coming, and tomorrow you will see his glory!”
(The Liturgy for Christmas Eve)

sparked by the booklet
Advent 2006: Daily Reflections by the Faculty and Staff of Villanova University
A publication of the Office for Mission Effectiveness, Villanova University

“As people of faith, we are always living in Advent as we continually wait and watch for the signs of God.” Waiting for anything in life gives us insight into what that wait for God is like. [Anthony Foti, in Advent 2006: Daily Reflections by the Faculty and Staff of Villanova University, for the first day of Advent.*]

This thought from Anthony Foti, Villanova Law School Student, also reminds us, however, that waiting could be seen as the quintessentially human activity. There is much that we can bring about by our efforts and our planning, but there is also something in life that we can only wait for.

The Advent and Christmas Gospels, as we hear them at worship, constantly remind us that there are many comings of Christ: the manger scene at Bethlehem serves as a center and symbol of many other “advents.”

As they treat the several comings of Christ in a way that helps us – indeed, almost forces us – to transcend history, the gospel stories for this time of year speak of many people in the midst of great activity. Mary is journeying up into the Judean Hill Country to assist her elderly cousin who is expecting a baby. Then she goes – that is, she walks – back to Galilee.

Then back to Judea, to Bethlehem for the census. Then she’s fleeing to Egypt for the sake of her new-born Son, Joseph traveling protectively with her and Jesus. Then it’s back again to Nazareth for the new tiny family.

Then (years later in history; two weeks later in the liturgy) to Jerusalem, then back part way home, then again back to Jerusalem to find their twelve-year-old Son. Then back to Nazareth, all the way this time.

Meanwhile in another Gospel, some Magi from the East – Iran and Iraq, actually – are journeying into Israel – in via Herod’s palace, they’ll avoid it coming back out. A couple Gospels show John the Baptizer, who hadn’t been still even in the womb, now three decades later going all around the Jordan Valley, announcing the Messiah, and baptizing at the spot where, twelve hundred years before, the 40-year journey of the escaping Hebrews came to its end as they entered finally into the Promised Land.

In Herod’s palace, after the Magi’s visit – great upheaval, people bustling about, doing Herod’s nefarious bidding. He was “upset,” as some translations of Matthew understate it, “and all Jerusalem with him.” In Israel, later, when John began preaching, “everyone was going out to him.” And in the background somewhere back at the beginning, there were all those busy people employed in conducting the census, registration, taxation.

Sometimes one hears people say they wish they could find the peacefulness and serenity of Christmas – find it in the midst of all they have to do to prepare for the holidays. If we’re looking for sympathy, should we maybe tell that to the Virgin Mary? Or Joseph? Or John the Baptizer?

Or even, say, his father Zachary? Up to Jerusalem to perform all the duties of the Temple, then the encounter with an archangel, losing his voice, and then journeying back home – no, he probably wouldn’t be too impressed either by our Christmas-busyness complaints.

Plenty people plenty busy. Things haven’t changed much, have they?

But in this way, too, we find some similarities between our activity and what the Gospels describe: The one reason why all that Judean and Galilean activity make sense – and the reason why our activity this time of year makes any sense – is something we can’t cause, can’t make happen by any amount of our own activity, our own work. We just have to wait.

“Today you will know that the Lord is coming, and tomorrow you will see his glory!”

And in the fullness of time God brings it about. “When deep silence encompassed all, and night was in the midst of its course, the almighty Word of God leapt down from heaven” – and came to share our human nature.

True. God does it. Absolutely.

“Today you will know that the Lord is coming, and tomorrow you will see his glory!”

But in Villanova’s Advent booklet, John Kelley’s thought for the second day reminds us that scripture also “urges us to get going… to take action… to do things.” It’s not enough to talk or even sometimes just to pray; we are called to “convey peace to others,” sometimes quite actively.

The two thoughts go together: In the midst of all our activity, it is the Lord’s coming that we await. But we should not wait passively. There are things we, like John the Baptizer, can do to prepare for his coming – even to help bring his presence into the lives of others.

A play-station for your son, niece, grandson? If, because of your generosity, a child grows up knowing there is room for hope and kindness, you have helped immensely: you have made it more possible for that child to receive the Lord’s coming, the Lord’s grace.

Yes, the Lord will come. But can we, this Christmas, help one another receive that Lord?

The tree you wrestle out of a tree-lot and onto the top of the car, the turkey you wrestle into and out of the oven, the visit you pay to a parent or grandparent, the kindness you show your employee, the extra lengths you go for your spouse, your sister, or the man who sells the newspaper at the corner – these are ways to convey peace to a neighbor. You bring to them the peace and self-respect and receptivity that makes it possible for someone to be open to God’s Word and to God’s Spirit, who overshadows each of us and tries to use us as a way of coming into this world.

God does it – no question. But God, that eternal and insatiable Lover of humankind – who, much as we seem to try, cannot be persuaded to stop loving us – that God, in unexplainably generous respect for us, asks us to cooperate in what he does.

“Today you will know that the Lord is coming, and tomorrow you will see his glory!”

And if we let God use our life, we will not only “see his glory,” we will help others to see it, to feel it, to be loved by it – and that will nourish it also in ourselves.

What could creation become – what could humankind become – if we could really live in the glory of God that comes to us at Christmas?

May all the many blessings our generous God wants to give us be upon you this season!

* Advent 2006: Daily Reflections by the Faculty and Staff of Villanova University is also available here. Each year, in Advent and in Lent, the University’s Office for Mission Effectiveness makes these insights, meditations, and thoughts available in booklet form and on the University’s website. John Kelley’s and Anthony Foti’s are among the couple dozen in that publication.

May your Christmas be full of grace!

Mark Garrett, O.S.A.

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