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Preparing a way for the Lord

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Each year in Advent, we await in joyful hope the coming of our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. In the first two weeks of this season, we celebrate our joyful anticipation of Christ’s coming in glory at the end of time, and we also give praise because the end of the ages is already with us. The everlasting kingdom that God promised has already begun, for the Son of God became flesh, and Christ, by his death and resurrection, has conquered sin and death. 

During the last two weeks of Advent, we prepare more immediately for the solemnity of the Nativity of Jesus Christ. Throughout this season, we prepare to commemorate Jesus’ birth, knowing that the Word has indeed come. The Incarnation reveals that God has already responded in self-giving love. This is despite our rejection of him, a rejection born of Adam’s sin yet overcome by the grace of Jesus Christ, the last Adam.

St. Bernard speaks meaningfully about three comings of the Lord. The first is the Incarnation, in which the Lord came in the flesh and in our weakness. The last is Christ’s coming in glory and majesty at the end of time. For St. Bernard, there is also a middle coming: a hidden one in which we see the Lord within our own selves (cf. "In Adventu Domini," 1-3). That is, when we open our hearts to Christ, he comes to us in spirit and in power.

To open our hearts to Christ, we follow the example of Mary, Mother of God and our Mother, whom we honor in a special way during Advent. She lays a foundation that can help guide us to Christmas morning.

First, on the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Dec. 8, we praise God for having preserved Mary from all stain of original sin, even from the moment of her conception. We also hail her as the new Eve, for while the first Eve rejected God, Mary opened herself completely to the power of the Most High with her eternal "yes."

On the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Dec. 12, the Patroness of the Americas, we behold Mary who appeared to Juan Diego and delivered a message of mercy and devotion for all peoples. It is in her that the promised Messiah dwells, and the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, given to Juan Diego, is that of the woman with child and clothed with the sun. She is the one who, witnessing God’s great work in our world, cries out, "My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior" (Lk 1:46-47).

We strive to imitate Mary, whom we find pondering God’s words in the Scriptures proclaimed on these days. In Advent, we, too, are invited to slow down and reflect on God’s call for us. We pause for quiet prayer with him, read his word in sacred Scripture, seek out his mercy in the sacrament of reconciliation, and receive his abundant graces in the Eucharist. In this way, we prepare the way and make straight the paths of our inner, spiritual lives so that the Word may dwell in us. So promise to "slow down" throughout these sacred days and give higher priority to your spiritual life and time with the Lord.

Through prayer, we are also prepared to imitate Mary in bringing forth Christ into the world. By the Holy Spirit, the virgin bore the Word and brought him forth in flesh. She gave birth to the Anointed One, who brings glad tidings to the poor, heals the brokenhearted, ransoms captives and frees prisoners. With Christ dwelling in our hearts, we, too, are made ready to bring him forth, not in flesh but in faith. Through our words and deeds of charitable and sacrificial service, our Savior continues his great work in our world today. Consider concrete ways you may reflect kindness, compassion, forgiveness and generosity and thus help reflect the presence of Christ to others.

Therefore, this and every Advent, we ask Mary for her help and intercession for the openness and courage to welcome Jesus into our hearts so that we may bear him forth in faith to our families and our communities. We make our own the prayer that Pope Francis has offered: "May the Virgin Mary help us as we approach Christmas, not to allow ourselves to be distracted by external things, but make space in our heart for him who has already come and wants to come again to heal our illnesses and give us his joy" (Angelus, Dec. 15, 2019). Truly, Jesus urgently desires to come into our hearts so that he may fulfill his great work in and through us. Let us not be afraid but, like Mary, reply in haste: "May it be done to me according to your word."

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020