In order to appreciate of the birth of the Savior, the soul must acknowledge the need of one. The penitential probe of heart and soul characterizes this season of Advent. One's gaze is fixed upon the failings of human nature and the longing for healing. This is hard viewing. Our culture would encourage one to abandon such labor for the blissful state of self-righteousness. Yet, the abundant fruit of the birth of Christ cannot be savored without this exploration.
Among the numerous delusions trumpeted in this modern age, the manipulation of sin into a quasi virtue is the most remarkable. Firing salvo after salvo at previously held moral norms or sets of values is perceived as the ultimate in human progress. This societal celebration of degradation promotes a general moral minimalism. If one desires to entertain a belief in God, the current culture might indulge this practice but would encourage a dogma that one need meet only the least of God's demands and still merit the fullness of God's rewards. Respectability is founded in not performing any truly dastardly deed. If one is pressed to a semblance of accountability, the process is marked by a long litany of excuses and rationalizations. In this atmosphere, the hope of humankind would be fulfilled not with the birth of a savior, but of a spin-doctor.
How does Advent and Christmas survive amid the pervasive focus on pleasure without conscience, belief without worship, and contentment without self-examination? I believe that the great, eternal truths owe no homage to the trends or fashions of any age. It is we who are privileged to experience these holy seasons and saving events and not the reverse. They call us to cease the noise, stop the chatter, and begin the reflection. The season of scouring one's soul of sin and opening it for the gift of God's grace has arrived. Creating this conviviality of spirit is no simple matter, because these preparations entail the welcoming of a thunderous, life-changing event. We may admire the work of great masters portraying the Holy Family in a scene of peaceful solemnity frozen in time. Yet, the very air was charged with awe and power beckoning the longing soul to discovery and reformation. Those seeking the Christ-child must be ready to grasp the whirlwind.
All this was a long time ago I remember.
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I shall be glad of another death.
- from Journey of the Magi
At the heart of all that we know and of all that we conceive Christmas to be is this fact: the Awaited One has come. In tender form the all-powerful Word has entered the world. He would face the nightmare of human evil and would dispel its terror. He would summon a confused and troubled world to come and follow him. The meaning of life and the path to eternal love would be made known and would be open to all people. Through all ages hence, humanity would be invited to step out of the darkness of ignorance into the light of truth.
The journey from Advent to Christmas is one of hopeful preparation to fulfilled expectation. The dreams and yearnings of patriarchs and prophets are realized in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. From that point on, all humankind must choose to accept or reject the Way, the Truth, and the Life. May this Christmas find our souls a warm and inviting place for the Son of God to enter and reside.
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