The Advent liturgy offers us a time of spiritual reflection, an opportunity to seriously reflect on Sacred Scripture. As we set aside the heightened activity of the retail measure of the holiday season, we find moments of solitude. We await the divine reply. Advent, then, is a spiritual retreat for the soul; a respite from a retail calendar that encourages consumerism. We need not become a spiritual “Scrooge”, however, in purifying our hearts or living the faith—for a “Bah! Humbug!” spirituality does not celebrate the joy of the birth of the Lord, any more than excessive gift purchases.
Contrarily, joyful Christmas hospitality is the fruit of gratitude that rejoices in the free gift of salvation, the divine reply.
Advent – Preparing for Christmas Joy
Advent prepares us for Christmas joy. During this liturgical season in the Church, we may ponder the year past and the year ahead—to prepare our hearts to receive Jesus. We look forward to celebrating Christmas—with the knowledge that Jesus’ birth fulfills prophecy. God has not abandoned us, but come to save us: “Shout for joy, O heavens! And rejoice, O earth! Break forth into joyful shouting, O mountains! For the LORD has comforted His people And will have compassion on His afflicted” (Isaiah 49:13).
Advent (meaning “coming”) directs our attention to the reality of Christ’s love for us. It prepares our hearts for the Lord’s Nativity and the Second Coming. Thus, it is a penitential and pondering time. If we give time to daily reflection and quiet, we prepare our spiritual house—one’s very being—in a similar manner that one would prepare a home to host others. We adorn our souls with spiritual beauty and hospitality fit for a King, the one who is called “Emmanuel”.
“Emmanuel” is the name of the divine reply to our lack of faith. Our salvation is not in human aid, as Saint John Paul II reminded us. We are to put our trust solely in God, rejecting “intervention” that denies truth or the wisdom and sovereignty of God. We are to act upon our faith with filial trust that God is with us.
Isaiah 7:14 – the Divine Reply
Saint John Paul II wrote of the significance of the prophecy of Isaiah, with some biblical exegetical explanation (found in the entire commentary):
In the original context, the prophecy of Is 7:14 was the divine reply to a lack of faith on the part of King Ahaz, who, threatened with an invasion from the armies of the neighbouring kings, sought his own salvation and that of his kingdom in Assyria’s protection. In advising him to put his trust solely in God and to reject the dreadful Assyrian intervention, the prophet Isaiah invites him on the Lord’s behalf to make an act of faith in God’s power: “Ask a sign of the Lord your God”. At the king’s refusal, for he preferred to seek salvation in human aid, the prophet made the famous prediction: “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Emmanuel (Is 7:13-14).”
Moreover, to simplify, Isaiah 7:14 is a verse full of promise and hope. The Creator of Heaven and Earth looked with great love upon His creatures. The Blessed Virgin Mary gives birth to Jesus—fulfilling the messianic prophecy of Isaiah. Jesus Christ is the messianic ‘Prince of Peace’.
Earthly peace is the image and fruit of the peace of Christ, the messianic ‘Prince of Peace.’ By the blood of his Cross, ‘in his own person he killed the hostility,’ he reconciled men with God and made his Church the sacrament of the unity of the human race and of its union with God. ‘He is our peace.’ He has declared: ‘Blessed are the peacemakers.’ (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2305)
Embrace Solitude, Find Peace
The festivity of preparing foods, gift giving, and gathering with friends and family during Christmas is imbued with a spirit of generosity and blessing. In the same way, we should rejoice in Christ’s promise; not merely as a celebration of retail commerce. We share the light of Christ generously. Therefore, we embrace the solitude of Advent, not a Christmas “rush”, with receptivity that nurtures peacefulness. Peacefulness informs authentic hospitality.
Catholics celebrate the season with interior hospitality toward Christ. Likewise, we put away an appetite for the passions that cause us to sin. We awake from the slumber of apathy or indifference to love of God. We “put on the Lord Jesus Christ”, depriving the desires of the flesh and meditating upon the Incarnate Word:
Do this, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed. The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts. (Romans 13:11-14)
“Emmanuel”, in Hebrew, signifies “God is with us”. He is the one who is present to us. God is for us. Jesus is the Messiah, meaning the one who “saves us from our sins”. The Incarnate Word fulfills Isaiah’s prophecy; setting “captives free”. It is a message and a promise in the here and now. It is for us, in our day and age. He fights for us.
Accordingly, we strive to put on the “armor of light” by keeping the commandments and living the beatitudes. It sounds very Catholic, to the Catholic mind. However, it is easy to lose sight of Advent, in the hustle and bustle of the season. More importantly, we may lose sight of the prophetic meaning of the promise of a Savior.
We are Christians—salvation history is present. Furthermore, in a world that prefers “nice” people to faithful people, it can be a struggle to encourage the fullest expression of human fulfillment, charitably. Returning to the roots of our faith is essential to understand who we are in Christ, in an age of remarkable scientific discovery and global technological revolution. Paradoxically, seeking God amid the noise and technological efficiency of the world is more challenging than ever.
Consequently, in a modern world which promotes error as progressive, Catholics should be mindful of their true identity. Therefore, it is important to remember the gift of the divine reply: The events of salvation history are near. The Advent liturgy of the Church “re-reads and re-lives the great events of salvation history”.
Likewise, we choose to strengthen our faith and act upon it; for our own good and the common good. Advent is an experience of spiritual growth in one’s faith—but it is also a time to stand and witness to a world that has forgotten the babe of Bethlehem. To reject the small-mindedness of “self” and the slavery of self-indulgence, Christians practice solitude and spiritual retreat from the world.
“God is For Us”
Clearly, Advent is about contrast and contradiction. Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen wrote in The Life of Christ,
“It was not so much that His birth cast a shadow on His life and thus led to His death; it was rather that the Cross was first, and cast its shadow back to His birth. His has been the only life in the world that was ever lived backward.”
Similarly, we have a choice; to live what we profess—the charity of Christ or a worldly “Thoreauvian beau ideal”. The “Thoreauvian beau ideal”, (to paraphrase the late Justice Antonin Scalia’s opinion), is the popular notion that one may choose to do as one pleases so long as it does not injure another. Scalia wrote, “there is no basis for thinking that our society has ever shared” the ideal or “much less for thinking that it was written into the Constitution.” Additionally, there is no Biblical basis for it, either. Instead, we are commanded to love God and neighbor in a spirit of truth.
On the other hand, “Thoreauvian beau idealists” may have a more relativistic and pleasant experience of their “religion”. Catholics, however, look to Calvary. “Moral perfection consists in man’s being moved to the good not by his will alone, but also by his sensitive appetite, as in the words of the psalm: ‘My heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God'” (CCC 1770).
Advent and Christmas are a time to reconnect with the truth, not as a “Thoreauvian beau ideal”, but in relationship to the person of Jesus Christ.
The Season of Hospitality
In the prophetic utterance of Isaiah, we have the blessed assurance that we are never alone. As we prepare for Christmas, we prepare our hearts to receive the Incarnate Word. Accordingly, the Church honors the Feast of the Immaculate Conception and the Memorial of Our Lady of Guadalupe. For Mary’s spiritual hospitality is always present, accompanying Christ. Our Lady is always inviting us to meet Jesus. She welcomes us in the dark days of winter as we gaze upon the landscape of our own soul in prayerful reflection. Thus, she encourages us to embrace the ancient and eternal promise.
Mary’s tenderness and charity offer us the eternal gift of love:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age”(Matthew 28:19-20).
Advent prepares us for Christmas blessings and Marian spiritual hospitality. Let us remember to “Shout for joy, O heavens! And rejoice, O earth!” God is with us, always.