Every year the Church blesses us with a season to prepare ourselves for the coming of the Lord at Christmas. Much exterior preparation takes place during the four weeks of Advent: we decorate our homes, purchase gifts for loved ones, bake cookies and host parties. All of these things should be directed toward fostering our awareness of the great mystery we celebrate on Christmas Day: the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. He alone is our Savior, and to Him we cry out, “Emmanuel, Lord, come to save us!”
In Advent, we prepare to celebrate God’s love for us; a love so powerful that when our Lord saw our neediness, He desired to save us through His grace rather than leave us to suffer on our own. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI reminded us that our cry for the Lord to come to save us echoes throughout history. He said, “This is the cry raised by men and women in every age, who sense that by themselves they cannot prevail over difficulties and dangers. They need to put their hands in a greater and stronger hand, a hand which reaches out to them from on high” (Urbi et Orbi Christmas Message, 2011).
None of us can save ourselves; we need God’s help. We need His transformative grace. Without God, we cannot turn away from sin and conform our lives to the Gospel’s truths. Jesus comes to save us. He has done that through the mystery of his Passion, Death, Resurrection and Ascension, as well as through His teachings and His life’s example. We celebrate that Jesus was born as one of us in order to give absolutely everything for us.
Just as we exteriorly prepare for the coming of the Lord at Christmas, we also should take advantage of these weeks to interiorly prepare our hearts to welcome our Savior. The Church’s Advent liturgies are filled with readings from the prophets about the People of Israel’s anticipation of the Messiah’s coming. Beautiful hymns give voice to the eager expectation shared by Christians over the course of the centuries. Our personal prayer, too, should foster in us the desire to accept the Lord’s hand and allow Him to pick us up and guide us along the path of discipleship.
Families can pray together with the assistance of reflections and the traditional prayers associated with lighting an Advent wreath. This is also a time to humbly encounter the Lord in the Sacrament of Reconciliation and ask Him to forgive our sins and heal us by the grace which only He can give.
Certainly, this is a busy time of year and, in the midst of that busyness, it is easy to arrive at Christmas Day and be surprised it is already here. We can be disappointed that we did not take advantage of the opportunities Advent offers to grow closer to God and allow Him more deeply into our lives. As this season of both exterior and interior preparation begins, let us take a moment to silence our hearts and reflect on the magnitude of God’s love, which we will contemplate in the image of the stable of Bethlehem. This Love will be born as a Person, a Child, a Savior. Jesus is born for you and for me.
Just as Mary and Joseph wondered in awe as they beheld the Christ Child, so too let us arrive at Christmas Day with great gratitude and love for God, who has chosen to save us in such an unassuming way.