By the power of the Holy Spirit he was born of the Virgin Mary and became man.
Every Sunday I dutifully say these words and bow. These words should not just prompt a habitual nod. I should tremble in awe. God became Man.
Advent is a time to remember the power of these words. The Church sets aside this liturgical season for us to be quiet and still. We need to let the reality of the Incarnation seep into our consciousness. How can I appreciate that God so loved the world that he sent his only Son if I am rushing from here to there leaving the echoes of anxiety laden howls in my wake?
Last year I spent Advent and Christmas with my right hand and arm in a cast after having surgery to repair a horrific fracture. When I reflect on this, I realize there are some significant lessons to bring forth to this year when I am able bodied. Christ's birth will be proclaimed whether I send out one hundred Christmas cards or no Christmas cards. The angels will sing His praises whether my voice is joined or not. I will be nourished by His Body and Blood whether or not I bake a single Christmas cookie or bake a single pie. Now, I do intend to send out Christmas cards, sing carols, and bake cookies. I hope to have my house full of Christmas cheer. But if the effort to do so begins to diminish my view of the Incarnation, it is time to step back and rethink.
After my broken arm Advent of last year, a specific area of Christmas preparations that will be different this year is decorating my house. I love my Christmas decorations. Every year they greet me like old friends. Twenty-five years of military moves mean that Christmas memories vary in climes and locations. Yet my Christmas music boxes, my Christmas dishes, my assortment of nativity sets, my bell collection, and candles, are the constant thread that says this is my house and it is Christmas. My old modus operandi is to drag everything out that first Sunday of Advent and fret about the clutter and disarray as I try to decorate, bake, wrap presents, and,oh yeah, pray for the next four weeks. No more. I love my decorations. I can't wait to see them. But just as the light on my Advent wreath will grow for the next four weeks, the Christmas ambiance of my home will grow slowly. Instead of a massive surge of Christmas preparation so that I can spend most of Advent sitting back in admiration of my home, I will decorate slowly, steadily, and deliberately. Advent will be four full weeks of preparation, both spiritually and physically. Each new Christmas decoration that appears in my home should represent another spiritual step I've made towards Christmas. Pray first, then trim the mantle. Pray first, then mix the cookie dough. Pray first, then wrap the presents. And once the "O Antiphons begin", I am done with decorating. If all the decorations don't make it out of the boxes this year, that is okay. Last year I found out that all the frills are not as essential as I thought they were.
Advent is a time of preparation. But it is a contemplative preparation for the reality of Christmas. Unlike the frenetic secular build-up to Christmas, Advent should help us detach from the material world and become poor in spirit. It is time to become child-like in our wonder. By Christmas Eve we should kneel at the creche, gaze at the Infant, and be able to utter little more than, "Wow!"