This may be the worst Advent I’ve ever had. Just after the First Sunday of Advent, my six-month pregnant wife and I were informed that a pesky mold problem in our apartment had been upgraded from “pesky” to “you need to get out so we can pull up the carpet and re-do the place.”
So, the past few weeks have been filled with a flurry of moving-related activities that mirror the Neo-Platonic exitus/reditus cycle: packing, moving, unpacking, re-settling. It was not how we envisioned the weeks leading to our first Christmas as a married couple.
In the midst of all this, finding or making the time to reflect upon the coming of Christ into the world for our redemption has not been easy. Who can spare a moment for contemplation when there are boxes to be moved, items to be put away, pictures to hang, mold-ridden furniture to be doused with bleach and scrubbed like the deck of a ship at sea?
If I had my druthers, I would have spent these past evenings reading the prophecies from the Book of Isaiah or watching Franco Zeffirelli’s mini-series Jesus of Nazareth in bite-sized pieces. This is not my ideal Advent.
But then I thought: Mary and Joseph didn’t exactly have an easy time of it preparing for the coming of Jesus, either. First, there was that little issue of wrapping their heads around the idea that they would bear and raise God’s Anointed One who was to be the salvation of the world, the light to the Gentiles and the glory of Israel, indeed, God Himself made flesh. And, as if that weren’t enough, when Mary was nine months pregnant they had to take a road trip on foot and donkey (I’m not sure which would have been more uncomfortable) 70 miles through hilly terrain to go stand in a sea of humanity to be counted by the Romans so that their taxes could go up proportionately.
No doubt they would have preferred to spend this time in mental and spiritual preparation, hearing the prophecies of Isaiah and recalling all the ways God has helped and promised he would help his people. It was hardly ideal for them, either.
I sometimes fall into the trap of thinking of the figures of salvation history as they are depicted in paintings: peaceful and serene, with simple smiles on their faces, comfortable and happy. It can be hard to identify with such an image when my own life so often lacks this sublimity. But this reflection reminds me that even the Holy Family faced moments of discomfort and inconvenience, to say the least. (Let’s not forget the exile in Egypt as Herod was out for the blood of the infant king he feared would displace him.)
The great events of salvation history are comprised of the same trials we face in our own lives, often worse. That’s why it’s our history. We can place ourselves in its narrative, and rejoice in its outcome.