Denver, Colo., Dec 21, 2018 / 01:22 pm (CNA).- After communion at Mass this morning, our parish school choir began one of my favorite hymns.
The first line filled my heart.
“Let all mortal flesh keep silence, and with fear and trembling stand.”
It was darling to hear those solemn words intoned by the cherubic voices of third and fourth graders, already giddy for Christmas break to begin.
I looked at my wife and smiled– at her, at the baby in her arms, and at the thought of our older children kneeling in prayer with their classes, indistinguishable in the sea of plaid jumpers and navy sweaters, somewhere in the pews ahead of us.
The moment felt to me like the end of Advent should feel– Christ is coming, our family will be together, work and school and activities will be put on hold for a few days of feasting, and resting.
But then the school choir sang the next lines:
“Ponder nothing earthly-minded, for with blessing in His hand, Christ our God to earth descendeth, our full homage to demand.”
I realized then that I had spent most of Mass pondering “earthly-minded” things.
I had been thinking about the work I had to get done before Christmas could begin. I had been thinking about the presents I still wanted to buy. I had been thinking about friends I hoped to see, and books I hoped to read over Christmas break, and for a while, I had gotten sidetracked thinking about why our den is so drafty and what I can do about it.
None of that seemed to me like “full homage” of Christ, our God. If God was demanding that I should be thinking only of celestial things- of angels and saints, perhaps- I was failing.
My warm feelings about Advent eroded quickly. My mortal flesh had not kept silent. I was not, I realized, ready, in a spiritual way, for Christmas.
But the extraordinary thing about Christmas is that no one was ready for it. Mary and Joseph were not ready to be expecting a baby. Bethlehem innkeepers were not ready to welcome the Holy Family. Herod was not ready to receive the news that the Messiah had come.
Christmas came- Christ came- no matter who was ready.
There’s a reason for this. The reason is that while Christ warns us to be ready- ready for his coming, ready for our deaths, ready for our judgment- Christ also is the one who makes us ready.
We cannot be ready for the things that matter most unless Christ has come into our lives, and transformed them.
We cannot be ready to respond to hatred with love unless Christ has tamed our tongues and quieted our hearts. We cannot be ready to give without counting the cost unless, in Christ, we know that self-denial gives us real joy. We cannot be ready to go out and make disciples unless Christ has made us disciples.
And we cannot be ready to give up pondering “earthly-minded” things unless Christ has lifted our sights, transformed our vision, filled us with a love that consumes all else.
That transformation takes a lifetime. It is the transformation of becoming a saint. We have a part to play. Mostly our part is to ask for grace, to try, to fail, to repent and try again. To trust that our efforts are not in vain, and that, by grace, our habits will become virtues and our virtues will perfect our intellects, our appetites, and our wills.
But all of that starts with Christ. With grace. With his coming into our lives- through the sacraments, and Scripture, and the Church- just as he came into the world in Bethlehem.
In his 2010 Christmas homily, Pope Benedict XVI wrote that in the Christmas message, two “elements belong together: grace and freedom, God’s prior love for us, without which we could not love him, and the response that he awaits from us, the response that he asks for so palpably through the birth of his son.”
He continued: “God has anticipated us with the gift of his Son. God anticipates us again and again in unexpected ways. He does not cease to search for us, to raise us up as often as we might need. He does not abandon the lost sheep in the wilderness into which it had strayed. God does not allow himself to be confounded by our sin. Again and again he begins afresh with us. But he is still waiting for us to join him in love. He loves us, so that we too may become people who love, so that there may be peace on earth.”
Things start small. With a glimpse of hope, or a moment of self-mastery- with an act of charity that surprises us, or a moment of clarity we didn’t expect. Faith grows. Hope grows. Love grows.
God doesn’t move in our lives because we are perfect, God moves in our lives to make us perfect.
We may not be ready for Christmas, but Jesus Christ is ready for us.