The Beautiful Mess of Advent
For most people December is a time of activity accompanied by an air of festivity. The thing about December, however, is that the festivity can also be somewhat chaotic as we are encouraged to cram a great deal more into this month than in any other. We attempt to accomplish everything ‘expected’, all the while trying to maintain a smile on our face as we offer “Merry Christmas!” greetings. Try as we might, the stress of all that can derail our focus, thus effecting our Advent meditation such that it is harried, or worse, slips past us almost entirely. If that description fits, then in some ways you are actually ‘doing’ Advent correctly because Advent is and should be a bit uncomfortable.* Yes, if Advent feels messy and uncomfortable, you are experiencing something like the first Advent which was most certainly just that. Nothing was in anyone’s control. There were essential preparations to be made, visitations with loved ones needed, and welcomes sought after, all in a rather short period of time with few resources to accomplish any of it. Please be clear: in the midst of the chaos and mess is great beauty, and indeed that is what we seek during Advent. But the key is to embrace the uncomfortable and let it be transformed into that which is grace-filled: that is, to adjust our focus so we recognize what God is asking us to prepare and for Whom we are preparing in the first place. If we focus our attention throughout all our activity in that light, then we are truly in the very heart of Advent.
At the first Advent the preparation for the coming of the long-awaited Messiah was quite a bit more uncomfortable than we often realize. The faithful had waited centuries for Him to come. The oppression had been consistent, their lives made miserable by the pagan Romans, and their future was uncertain. If we reflect upon some of the ‘Advent figures’ we can see just how uncomfortable it was.** For example, Zechariah was moved completely out of his 'comfort zone:' as a Sadducee he did not believe in a coming messiah, yet an angel showed up telling him that he would have a son in his old age who would usher in none other than the very messiah in whom he did not believe! It got even messier when he also lost his ability to speak. He had to learn to listen which enabled him to be opened to new understandings. This son, John the Baptist, eventually left home to live in a cave, wore rough clothing, and ate carob husks while preparing Himself for His role as forerunner of Jesus. Life for him was definitely messy and uncomfortable, especially when he brought upheaval to the status quo which eventually cost him his life.
Mary responded in word and deed to the revelation that she would be overshadowed by the Holy Spirit to bring the Son of God into the world. She immediately left comfort behind to set out for the hill country in order to serve her pregnant cousin Elizabeth, while pregnant herself. The events of Advent radically changed Joseph’s expectations for his life; like Mary he, too, had to prepare in some haste for his role as (foster) father to the Son of God. And as if that was not stressful enough, at the ‘11th hour,’ came the decree that he and his family had to get to Bethlehem immediately because of a census. As they were preparing for a quiet birth in Nazareth, and just as Mary was going to be least comfortable on a donkey’s back, they had to travel. Once in Bethlehem, they attempted to find a place to give birth, turned down at all the lodgings until they found a messy, uncomfortable stable.
What made the difference for each one was their absolute trust in God. “If God called me to this,” they may have thought, “then He will ‘see it through.’” This ought to be our disposition during this Advent: ‘If God has called me to this,’ whatever it is, whatever it entails, however it looks, and as messy or uncomfortable as it is, ‘then He will see it through.’ That is, together we will see it through. As long as we try to do it all on our own, fighting the discomfort instead of embracing it, we will get little out of Advent. But with God’s help, as we intentionally enter into the mysteries of that first Advent, it can be an inspiring and fruitful season; in fact, we will find peace and joy in the midst of the activity.*** In truth, all of life is messy and uncomfortable, but it is also beautiful; for those with eyes to see, it can be both at the same time. It is important to keep our focus on the manger and Who will be in it. What we do for family and friends during this busy season (especially when the going gets rough) is for Jesus. Our generosity to others, no matter how small we think it is, is also done for Him. Let us embrace the season with all its messiness, keeping our focus on what is most important, trusting God, and seeking Him in all we meet. If we do, Advent graces will flow as we prepare our hearts for the birth of Emmanuel, God with Us, Jesus the Lord.
May we ask the Holy Spirit to give us the grace to enter into Advent rather than to accept the notion that somehow we are not ‘into it' the way we should be! May we make an offering to God of all that is messy and uncomfortable during our preparations! May we look within the mess and discomfort to find Advent beauty! And may we find the One for Whom we seek in the midst of every activity and relationship! Let us meet at the manger! Peace! Marana tha! Come O Lord!
© Michele L. Catanese
* I am not encouraging you to neglect to pray or reflect on Advent mysteries; of course we should! And it is not to say that if Advent is peaceful there is something wrong. Rather, if it is peaceful means you are most blessed because for many folks it is far from peace-filled.
** With meditation upon all the major figures in the Infancy Narratives of Matthew and Luke in addition to the Scriptures in John’s Gospel that are about John the Baptist, it will become clear just how uncomfortable things were in their lives as they prepared for the coming of Jesus. But each of them embraced all the discomforts and uncertainties with unwavering trust in God and His call to them.
*** It is important to include within our activities some outreach to the poor and lonely; our generosity to those who lives are more uncomfortable than ours is important. For some, doing this is uncomfortable, but that is at the heart of the first Advent, too, since the One we are welcoming, will come as a baby into a humble, materially poor family who were ‘residing’ in an uncomfortable place, a stable.
1. My photo taken in Natchidoches during the lighting of the river.
2. Painting, Zechariah and the Angel in the Temple by James Tissot.
3. Icon, The Mother of God Overshadowed by the Holy Spirit by Fr. William Hart McNichols. I include this every year during Advent because it is so profound and beautiful. If you would like to purchase this icon in one of my mediums go to https://fineartamerica.com/featured/the-mother-of-god-overshadowed-by-the-holy-spirit-118-william-hart-mcnichols.html
4. My photo of my own creche scene in my home. Jesus is not yet come.
5. Clip Art, Advent Candles for Week 3, (Guadate!)
Note: In compliance with GDPR rules, I wish to make it clear that I do not gather any information on any of my readers at any time.
12/12/2022 10:55:45 am
Michele, Once more you have written something truly meaningful to me (and to others) when you speak of trusting God. You are truly a blessing.
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Heart Speaks to Heart