It is the second Sunday of Advent, and we light the “Bethlehem Candle” of faith today, or the candle of “preparation.” Advent is really all about preparing to give birth to, and sustain, new life – to allow the Holy Spirit to do a new work in our hearts and our walk with the Lord. That is why the rhythm of the Church doesn’t start with Christmas. Our hearts cannot welcome the birth of Christ without preparation. Part of that preparation is a realization of the long groaning of all of creation throughout the centuries of salvation history.
But another important part of Advent is to recognize what Christ still means to fulfill in our individual lives. We are still waiting for the complete fulfillment of the promise of that covenant relationship made so long ago to make all things new and for our Father to fully restore us to himself. The Advent of our King was not a one-time event. It is a once-for-all-time event. Which means that his coming in our lives – and the new life he births in us because of his birth – is reoccurring – daily, weekly, monthly, yearly.
So the question that I have for you in the middle of your Advent season is this: What is it that Christ wants to give birth to in your life this Advent? What is he preparing you for, and how is he preparing you to walk more closely with him?
I want to use a pregnancy analogy (since I’m currently 34 weeks pregnant), to help describe three possible seasons of Advent that may be happening in your heart right now. Think first of the woman whose pregnancy and expectation of a new life is filled with nothing but joy. Everything about it is wonderful and exciting. My first pregnancy was like this. It’s a happy time…not without its overwhelming moments of how life will change…but you are preparing for this new birth with a welcoming joy.
In the spiritual life, these are the easiest and best Advent seasons, aren’t they? Preparing for what God is about to do, for the unique way that he appears to be coming in your life, is full of joy. During this time God may be giving birth to lots of exciting new things and wonderful insights. It might be a time of blessing, and you are probably being called to bless others through that blessing. This may be a time when you are experiencing a lot of spiritual consolations too. These are good times in the spiritual life. But these are not always the only seasons of Advent that God has for us.
There is second possible Advent season that you may be facing. Think of a woman facing a pregnancy that she really wasn’t ready for or planning on. Perhaps she doesn’t feel at all prepared for what will be expected of her. If you have ever experienced this you will know just what I mean. The new life is exciting, but the responsibility and the demands that will be on you have you wondering how you will manage.
In the spiritual life, when we are faced with this type of Advent season, this type of daunting expectation, our thoughts may be something like this: Lord, I am not ready or equipped for what you seem to be calling me to do. I don’t think I have the tools…it seems like a lot. There are things that may indeed be wonderful fruits that come from this, but how you are asking me to grow feels quite overwhelming. In these Advent seasons, we are tempted to doubt God’s fulfillment of his promise. We think he may be calling us to something that we cannot do and at which we will fail.
Finally, there is a third type of Advent season that God brought to my mind. There are those seasons that birth new life at the end, but they are bitter roads along the way. There are Advent paths to Christmas in our spiritual journey that are terrifying — that truly bring us to the end of ourselves. I would say that these are the Advents that feel more like the hardest Lent. During these Advent seasons we are tempted to doubt God’s goodness.
My last pregnancy with our third child was both a pregnancy like this and a spiritual journey like this. At our 18 week ultrasound we were told that the baby was growth challenged due to a placenta that wasn’t functioning, and that he would not make it longer than a couple more weeks. We were devastated; we were calling funeral homes; we were preparing for what we were told was inevitable. But in the midst of preparing to let go of that baby, I was given the grace to pray (with many other people) for a miracle. A complete miracle was actually what we got, and Sam actually made it all the way to 38 weeks and is a healthy, big 2-year-old today.
But I tell everyone that the greater miracle that happened during that couple of weeks was the miracle that Christ did in my heart. I went from being crippled with fear at the thought of losing a child in this way—and what would be asked of me—to coming to perfect peace in God’s plan for this new life. Would I ever want to go through something that hard again – no. But I can promise you that I have never felt closer to the Father than I did during those long weeks. I cannot escape the reality of the new birth in my spiritual life that occurred during that season of intensely holding on to God’s promises and to clinging to the fact that he is good.
The promise of Advent is that we know that he comes; Christmas is inevitable. The season of fulfillment always follows the season of waiting. But the waiting, and the circumstances we may have to walk through while we wait, may sometimes bring us to the end of ourselves – but they are meant to…because the end of ourselves is where we know the never-ending grace and mercy of our Lord.
So, I return to my question for you: What type of Advent may you be facing? What is it that Christ wants to give birth to in your life? What is he preparing you for, and how is he preparing you to walk more closely in him?
I have three prayers or meditations to share with you. Perhaps you resonate with one of them, perhaps – in different ways – all three. Take a moment to give this Advent – the one that God has for you – to his perfect will. Whatever prayer resonates with your soul — let your heart lift those words to the Lord.
If your soul waits this Advent with joyfully expectation…meditate on the Blessed Mother’s Magnificat:
“My soul magnifies the Lord
And my spirit rejoices in God my Savior;
Because He has regarded the lowliness of His handmaid;
For behold, henceforth all generations shall call me blessed;
Because He who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is His name;
And His mercy is from generation to generation
on those who fear Him.
He has shown might with His arm,
He has scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart.
He has put down the mighty from their thrones,
and has exalted the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich He has sent away empty.
He has given help to Israel, his servant, mindful of His mercy
Even as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his posterity forever.”
If your soul waits feeling unprepared for what God is calling you to, pray with me…
Dear Lord, when we face the limit of our natural resources we realize that we must rely totally on you. For it is in our weakness that you are strong. Let us pray the words of St. Patrick constantly:
“Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me.
I arise today
Through the mighty strength
Of the Lord of creation.”
If your soul waits at the end of itself…
Finally, if in this season of waiting you have come to the very end of yourself — unsure of how you will survive — do not let go of God’s promises, and do not doubt his goodness. Constantly meditate on St. Paul’s words in Romans 8:
“If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?…
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”