By Bishop Stephen J. Berg
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Greetings in our Lord! The blessings of Advent are upon us: Prepare the way of the Lord! Part of my preparation this season involves a recent birth in my family.
We received news of a new baby girl born the day after Thanksgiving. Zèlie (the name of St. Therese’s mother) arrived as my mother’s 49th grand or great grandchild. I was especially touched to hear of the transparent, wonder-filled reaction from the new father, my nephew, who said “Grandma, she is perfect! She has ten fingers and ten toes! Her eyes are so open! Our lives are going to change!” As prepared as he thought he was for this birth, something amazing happened to him. A child truly does change one’s life.
Jesus is on the way! The birthday celebration of the first Christmas is almost here. That first coming of the savior was prepared through centuries of hopes and expectations foretold by the prophets. Yet for all those signs, that a Virgin would be with child and that this child would lead them in counsel, justice and the spirit of God, the birth of Jesus was a surprise. God entered the world in our flesh and weakness, born of Mary in a manger in Bethlehem, and the world was everlastingly changed.
Our past celebrations of Christmas certainly contain memories which guide our expectations and hopes for this year’s coming feast. We certainly want to “be prepared” that the true meaning of Christmas be realized in our church, family and home. But our reflection on the true meaning of Christmas must encompass the greater truth of the vision of God. The birth, life, death and resurrection of this child, Jesus, bring us into a unique and future sphere of hope. It is in fact the Second Coming of Christ which the scriptures ultimately foretell. Our vision is directed to the next and final Christmas where Christ shall bring all creation into himself in fullness and joy. For those whose lives are prepared, repentant, and watchful in prayer, that will be the Christmas of glory and majesty. It is that second, final coming for which we prepare.
Jesus is on the way! Yet, there is again a third coming of Christ, an intermediate coming between the other two. It is the invisible coming for those who are prepared, who strive in holiness to seek and follow Jesus. For those who become like him and carry his message of love and mercy into the world. This third coming is the road we travel between the first and second comings. The journey of our lives is our true Advent, and here we meet our Lord on the way.
Let us be watchful in prayer together. In the words of St. Anselm, “escape from your everyday business for a short while, hide for a moment from your restless thoughts. Break off from your cares and troubles and be less concerned about your tasks and labors. Make a little time for God and rest awhile in him. . . . Speak now to God and say with your whole heart: I seek your face; your face, Lord, I desire.” Prayer changes us and attunes us to Jesus who is all around us. We become alive to the things of God.
When you and I were born, lives were changed. A child truly does change your life. Let’s be attentive and faithful to the promise of Advent. Let’s allow our Lord to change us. I pray for all blessings of Advent, and for a holy and joyful Christmas season for each of you. Let us prepare to receive our Lord!