Advent - Letting God Come to Us

Welcome to Advent (a couple of weeks late)!  Here at the NAC we just had our annual Christmas party (basically, a fun meal - accompanied by the 3rd year guys providing music and cookies followed by a free-night in the lounge - think ice-cream, beer, and some of the guys composing a band, all surrounded by the completion of all the Christmas decorations around the NAC - think lights, and snowmen, and banners, and guys-dressed-up-as-elves all over the place).  However, despite all these festivities, and entering the last week of classes before break, and seeing lights and trees going up all over the eternal city, we are still in Advent, and that is a good thing! 

Here's why:  Advent is meant to be a time when we get prepared for the coming of Christ.  Obvious right?  Well, St. Bernard reminds us that this isn't as obvious, or as easy, as we'd think. 
"there are three comings of the Lord.  The third lies between the other two.  It is invisible, while the other two are visible.  In the first coming he was seen on earth, dwelling among men; he himself testifies that they saw him and hated him.  In the final coming all flesh will see the salvation of our God, and they will look on him whom they pierced.  The intermediate coming is a hidden one; in it only the elect see the Lord within their own selves, and they are saved.  In his first coming our Lord came in our flesh and in our weakness; in this middle coming he comes in spirit and in power; in the final coming he will be seen in glory and majesty." 
The Church divides the liturgy of Advent into two halves: the first 2 or so weeks of Advent emphasizing, in the readings at Mass and Liturgy of the Hours, the second coming of Christ (at the end of time, to judge the world) and the last 2 weeks of Advent emphasize the first coming of Christ (in the Incarnation, to save the world).  However, while these are incredibly important things to meditate on - God becoming man, yep, pretty world-changing; the end of the universe, again, pretty big deal - often in celebrating Christ's coming 2000 years ago, or getting excited about His coming in the future, we forget that He wants to enter our hearts and lives every day, right now.  Bernard continues:
"Listen to what our Lord himself says: If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him. There is another passage of Scripture which reads: He who fears God will do good, but something further has been said about the one who loves, that is, that he will keep God's word.  Where is God's word to be kept?  Obviously in the heart, as the prophet says: I have hidden your words in my heart, so that I may not sin against you.  Keep God's word in this way.  Let it enter into your very being, let it take possession of your desires and your whole way of life ... If you keep the word of God in this way, it will also keep you.  The Son with the Father will come to you." 
So, our goal this Advent has to be to truly prepare ourselves for Christ's coming - not only by considering the Incarnation, recognizing the incredible love that Jesus humbly shows us at Bethlehem, and not only in making sure we'll be ready when Christ comes in glory - but even more immediately, in being ready for Him to enter our hearts now, at this moment, in the Eucharist, in the Scriptures, in those we meet. 
I was listening to a homily by Fr. Michael Schmitz and he recounted how he had been struck by a quote which read something like "do I desire to love God as much as He can be loved?"  That's a question that we all need to ask ourselves (and I've been asking myself these last few weeks).  Do I desire, do I strive, do I pray, to have the grace, strength, conversion-of-heart, fervor, and everything else, to love God, as much as He can be loved.  The fact is that we are created to love God, and only in loving Him will we find true fulfillment.  No amount of Christmas cookies, the latest technological gizmo, going out to eat, watching movies, plush cars, honors, or even friends will fill our hearts because they have been created for something more, for something infinite, for someone (God) to fill.
Our Lady of Humility, Pray for Us!
However, here we can fall into another trap: trying to fill ourselves with God.  It's tempting to think that if we pray enough, or read enough theology, or kneel stoically enough, or fast arduously enough, that we will turn ourselves into saints and - boom - live happily ever after (with God dwelling within us).  The problem: praying, studying, kneeling, and fasting aren't any good if we're doing them out of our own pride (thinking ourselves better than others, or thinking that we're now deserving of God).  Sanctity, holiness, grace, divine-love, Christ dwelling within us - it's all a complete gift of God.  We can't deserve it; we can't earn it; we can't "steal" it.  We can only accept it.
I am a "doer", I'm that guy that thinks that if I fit in another holy hour, or pray that extra devotion, or read some extra book, or make another sacrifice, then I'm making myself a saint, but while all those things are great, they aren't the most important.  Martha was a doer, she was, I'm sure, running around making a delicious meal for Jesus, but Mary, who isn't doing anything, just sitting at Our Lord's feet, is the one who has chosen the "better part".  Samuel, in the Old Testament, gives us an example as well, responding to God, "speak, Lord, your servant is listening".  We, this Advent, need to have this mentality.  Before we start doing something, we need to  allow Christ to do the doing within us.  We can't fill ourselves with His love, only He can.  Certainly, we must be attentive, we must be listening, but - above all else - we must simply be open to God, and not filled with our own desires, plans, goals, or ideas.  St. Bernard has this in mind when he exhorts us to "let [God] take possession of your desires and your whole way of life".  Our job isn't  so much to go bulldozing through our life, making room for Christ, how we think we should, but instead we should simply surrender to His will, in each and every moment, and allow Him to make room within us for His love. 
Some days things don't happen the way we want them too - so many times I get to the end of the day and I think "gosh, I didn't get as much done as I wanted to today".  But this is my own idea of a productive day, God simply wants me to get to the end of the day and ask if I loved God as much as I could that day.  He doesn't ask for efficiency, but charity, not production, but love.  Blessed Mother Theresa was quoted saying "do little things with great love".  It's a quote we've all heard before, but do we follow it?  Are we willing to be so humble as to accept whatever God - in His providence - has planned for us today, and simply trust that He will give us the grace necessary to do it in the loving way that He wants.  Are we willing to surrender to such an extent that we allow Christ to come to us, and not try to force our way to Him? 

In His coming at Bethlehem Christ emphasizes humility.  In His middle coming into our heart - whether through sacrament, scripture, or neighbor - He also emphasizes humility.  Christ humbles Himself completely in order to come with us, are we willing to stoop low enough to enter that stable with Him - to leave behind our own ideas, plans, or whatever, and simply kneel there in His presence?  Are we willing to be like Joseph, silent before the Christ child, simply gazing upon God's incarnate love?  Are we willing to be like Mary, staying the night in a stable because nobody else cared?  Are we willing to round up our sheep, tossing out our own plans, like the shepherds, and tromp into Bethlehem to bow before our infant king?  Are we willing to pack up our treasures and sit on a camel for a month, to just catch a glimpse of Jesus?  All the figures we see didn't really do something to earn God's coming to them, they were just ready to obey when God announced it to them.  We too, during this advent, aren't so much called to do something, as we are called to willing do whatever God places before us. 
For me, that means studying Hebrew (one of my classes this semester) - not exactly my favorite past-time - is more important than doing something different where I think I will encounter God.  Praying the Office - even when I think it gets repetitive, or boring, or tiring - is a better prayer than whatever devotion resonates with me this week.  You get the picture, following God's plan is more important that following our own plan.  Why?  Because God can only enter the humble heart.  The heart filled with its own plans, ideas, or pseudo-holiness, doesn't have any room for God.  Advent isn't for replacing our old attachments with new, better, ones, it's for emptying our hearts of our own attachments completely and letting God fill us.  Back to the analogy of listening: we aren't supposed to start pumping new, better, music through our ears, but to stop filling our ears with any noise and just allow God to speak. 
Is this hard?  You better believe it!  Stepping back, accepting everything as an opportunity to follow God's will, listening, surrendering - all these things mean coming out of ourselves and dying to self.  You have no idea (ok, maybe some of you do) how hard it is for me to kneel there during a holy hour and not pick up a book to read.  I want to do something, I feel like I am so distracted when I'm just there, doing nothing, in the presence of God.  But God so often comes quietly, humbly, simply.  2000 years ago, God came - not as a mighty, world-conquering, evil-pulverizing, divine king - but as a child, a weak, helpless, approachable, little baby.  And, today, He enters our hearts in the same way - in silence, in stillness, tenderly knocking and asking if He can enter. 
Do you desire to love God as much as He can possibly be loved?  That's the question this post began with, and hopefully that is the question that it ends with.  Christ comes to bring us love, to unite us with God, to restore us to the original union He had planned for us since the beginning.  Advent is a time of preparation, not in the sense of packing up our stuff and asking God where He wants to send us, but in leaving our stuff behind and watching Our Lord, to follow the path He takes before us - the path of humility, love, and obedience.  May we pray, with Our Lady, that God's will be done, in us, according to His word - not expecting, or predicting, or presuming, what God wants us to do, but allowing His will to unfold before us and accepting whatever it might be with His gratitude, enthusiasm, joy, and love.  Not filling ourselves with our own love - whatever that might mean - but simply remaining open to God filling us with His love, and stretching us to hold more of His love, throughout every day.  Not doing something to try and bring Christ to us, but just being ready to receive Him when He comes.