“A voice cries: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God'” (Isaiah 40:3).
As we near the final days of Advent, we make our final preparations for the manifestation of God in our world, in our communities, and in our hearts. It is a time to look into various aspects of our lives: our relationships, our work, and our own souls. We should ask about any obstacles that may be in the way of God’s love in these areas. What things draw us toward God and what things draw away from him? What things remind us of God and what draws us away from thoughts of him? The Lord wants to come to us, but we have obstacles (primarily of selfishness) in our hearts.
Our one mission this Advent is to let nothing impede his coming. His love is coming for us. Let us remove the obstacles, make straight the path for the Lord into our heart. This means being mindful of his constant presence, love, and provision. We can then turn our love back to him and reevaluate what is truly first in our hearts. We should be honest with ourselves about what we value more: the ways of the world or the ways of God? Do we rely on the solace and consolation that the validation of the world offers? To be of the world means we rely on it and its finite satisfaction for our primary comfort. But this is not the reason for which we were made. We were made for so much more. We were made for the infinite God who comes to us at Christmas.
As beautiful of a vision this may be, it is also very difficult to align ourselves to the demands of the Gospel (and difficult may be an understatement). The world can offer us so many fleeting delights, it is easy to get caught up in chasing one after the other to distract our hearts from the truth of our loneliness and unrest. More than restless, our hearts are often a dry, thirsting desert, deserted of the fullness for which they were created. Even when we try all the proper methods and strategies to live a good life, we fall short. When we fall short, we choose one of two paths: hardening our hearts to God or opening our hearts to God. While the correct answer is obvious, we are humans who often seek the next nearest thing to fill our desires. But we need God, we need the Holy Spirit to flood the dryness of our hearts.
Loving God (or another person) is often a confusing concept in our day and age. Reality TV, movies, tabloids, music, and bar scenes teach us that love is something very much different than the way Jesus loved us. We who strive to be his disciples, however, are called to learn how to live from him, not from these other things. This Advent, as we prepare for Christmas, most of us prepare for an exciting exchange of gifts. For Jesus, the gift is his life that he offers us humbly, yet without reservation. He descends to us (from on high!) because he wants to be with us; he wants to show us the extent of his love, which is destined for the cross. The beauty of his life is that it was totally devoted and abandoned to us–(now that’s romantic!). But he also desires an exchange of gifts as well.
In this Advent season, we prepare to learn from the Master. If we wish to find our life, we will lose it for his sake. The key to learning to love is learning how to exist for others, and ultimately for God. God has given each of so many gifts and we can waste them because we’re using them to chase things in the world, desiring to attain them, and enjoy them in this moment (using our talents to gain fleeting joys). God’s plan for us is so much greater than these delights. He wants you and me to be a delight for others. What we are preparing to celebrate at Christmas is when the designer of the world emptied his omnipotence to become a servant to humanity, to you and me. Therein we have the model for ourselves. We are to empty ourselves for the good of others and ultimately for the salvation of others. In doing this, we become a gift back to Jesus.
So we are to live humbly, yet without reservation. We have all met amazing people who have led us closer to God. It our goal now to become one of those people. You are made in the incredible image and likeness of God. In short, you are awesome. And you are meant to be awesome for a purpose. Now, awesome doesn’t have to be big. Baby Jesus wasn’t big. Being awesome means you are attentive to the ways you can use your gifts to serve others: to offer a hand to someone who needs a little help, choose to listen to a friend, to be with someone who doesn’t have a lot of friends, to speak kindness, love, or sometimes a challenging word to someone, to be a friend to all (if possible). As Mother Teresa showed us, love is often small yet powerful – like baby Jesus. We are to offer whatever and whoever we are to others for their sake. Advent is a great time to reflect on beginning again in this cosmic endeavor of participating in God’s love, offering ourselves as a gift to God and others in the world today.
To bring us back to the verse from Isaiah, in giving ourselves away, we free ourselves from the obstacles of our own selfishness and make the highway in the desert for the Lord in our relationships, our workplaces, and our own souls. In all of this we become more and more like Christ, and so we become more and more what we were created to be. In the end, when we bring love into the world, as Flannery O’Connor would have us realize, “The life you save may be your own.” As mentioned, we can’t live the demands of the Gospel alone. We must also ask the Holy Spirit to flood us with a torrent of grace so that we ourselves may become self-giving manifestations of God. Jesus offers us the gift of his life. This Advent may we prepare to participate in the cosmic Christmas gift exchange and learn to offer the gift of our lives as well.
“You find yourself by giving yourself away.” -St. John Paul II