Be ready!

This week we have the Advent lessons and carols service at the younger children’s school.  Of course my 8-year-old doesn’t want anything to do with it, though he can sing perfectly well. The 3-year-old, on the other hand, walks around the house singing, “Alleluia! The Lord is coming to stay!” and “Stay awake! Be ready!” and also reminding us that “no one knows the day or the hour.”

I always consider motherhood as a spiritual discipline. Faith-shaping, patience-testing, hope-building and joy-giving, it is an exercise of love at its easiest and its hardest. But usually the connection between my Christian faith and the work of parenting is at the practical level. The expressions of love (“the best part of my day is seeing my mummy”) fill my heart, and the surly disobedience (best left unrepeated) breaks it. But this is different: this is a little chime, reminding me over and over what Advent is all about: stay awake! Be ready! The Lord is coming!

I choose to understand my making-ready in light of the second reading from yesterday, Gaudete Sunday. “Rejoice!” Easier said than done, but the passage from 1 Thessalonians goes on to explain that the injunctions (which include “pray constantly” and “give thanks in everything”) constitute “the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.” This has a two-fold benefit. It gives me some concrete things to do to prepare (pray, “rejoice” and “give thanks”) that don’t occupy any space on the to-do list but rather accompany all the comings and goings and doings. And it also frees me from the worry about what “the will of God” might be. In a (school) year marked by transition, when the next steps are as yet unknown, it’s easy to become anxious (really, really easy) about what God has in store for us.

Now I know: rejoice, pray, give thanks. And then I will be ready for the Lord, whenever and wherever he meets me.

Deo gratias.

Advent

My children are involved in the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. If you have never heard of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, think of it as catechesis, Montessori style. During Advent, the focus of the sessions is (for the older children, ages 6-12) on the prophecies. This morning, I was with the upper elementary (ages 9-12) group, who were reading through part of Ezekiel 34–the Good Shepherd. We read through the familiar (to us grown-ups, anyway) text, and one verse struck me particularly. “The lost I will search out, the strays I will bring back, and the sick I will heal…” (verse 16, NABRE). And the people will know that God is God because he will save them.
 
We don't have to figure it out first. We don't have to find our way home: God will gather “the strays.” We think of Advent as a time of preparation, as we look forward to celebrating the miracle of the Incarnation and to the return of the Lord in glory. But I find it very easy to lose sight of the relentless love of God and God's unstoppable salvation as I prepare. I should prepare my heart, I think, clear out the junk that gets in the way of receiving Jesus. And I should prepare my house, so that the space for celebration will be festive and welcoming. In so far as possible, I should help my family prepare, especially my children. After all, it is so difficult for them to focus on the coming of the Lord when all around them the focus is on preparing for Santa Claus.
 
God and my children have something to remind me, though: it is the Lord who comes, and his salvation is with him. The miracle is that God has turned the hearts of his people (1 Kings 18–a wonderful narrative) back to him. The miracle is that God breaks into our hearts and into our lives, and into our world. No one has ever seen God–we can't! “No one has ever seen God. The only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has made him known” (John 1.18). Christmas isn't something I do. Christmas is something God has done and is doing. My kids know that. They know that Christmas happens, and they expect it with joy.
 
So, I have strayed; God will bring me back. My soul is sick with sin; God will heal it. I have been lost; God has found me, again and again. To prepare for Christmas is to remember this, over and over, and to rejoice in it. Advent is joyful expectation, hopeful preparation, for Christ has come into the world.

Two Advent posts (by other people)

First: a blessed feast of St Lucy! My youngest is called Lucy, partly because of St Lucy, and partly because of Lucy Pevensie.

Second: work and getting ready for Christmas have provided a great reason (and excuse) for going quiet on twitter, Facebook and this blog. And I have been busy, it’s true. But it is also true that I find this time of year a bit sad. Nothing extraordinary, just the nostalgia for my childhood Christmas celebrations with my grandparents. And this December it has been particularly dark and dreary in my soul.

So I found this blog post encouraging. ‘God’s faith in Zechariah is enough, even when Zechariah’s faith falters.’ And I have been stumbling along rather blindly. No matter how many times I hear it, it is good to be reminded that it doesn’t depend on me. It (everything) depends on God. Yes, God chooses to work through me, so I should be attentive to the Holy Spirit and allow God to do God’s thing. That’s best for me. But God can also work around or in spite of me. Then, I fail to experience the treasure flowing through this earthen vessel. God, however, is not thwarted. That’s very good news.

If that post had missed me, I might have been caught by this one. As usual, Sr Catherine has hit the nail on the head. ‘We fail to recognise the opportunities offered to us…our loss.’ Indeed so. God wants to work through us for our benefit, not for God’s own benefit: so God’s sorrow is empathetic; God is sorry for our loss. (Again, God isn’t thwarted!)

And Sr Catherine also reminds me that Lucy is derived from the Latin word for light. Even as my own Lucy did bring light back into my life at a particularly dark time, so I pray that God’s light will shine into the dreary darkness of my soul this Advent. And yours, too.