I hope and pray this note of Christmas tidings finds you among friends, family, good cheer and the sure knowledge that Jesus Christ is truly alive, born anew in each of our hearts this special day. Throughout Advent we have prepared for His coming. Now that our anticipation has come to fulfillment, I hope we all can rejoice together by putting into even greater and more earnest practice the lessons this Advent has taught us. May we be more patient, more grateful, more aware of others, quicker to love and forgive and above all, filled with courage to live out the Incarnation in our daily lives. Jesus, true God and true Man, lives in each of us. When we open our lives to Him and His divine will, we allow the Incarnation to flow through us.
I cannot begin to thank each of you for journeying through Advent with me. It has been a labor of love and learning and I hope you receive as much inspiration and joy while reading them as I did writing them.
And now we have reached the day before the day, Christmas Eve. Today may well contain the most anticipation, require the most patience, and obtain the least notice. Today takes the longest and goes the quickest. Our anticipation for Christmas can fully consume us as we prepare feasts, clean our homes, greet guests and wrap presents. So, before you launch into your final Christmastide preparations or choose your Christmas Eve party outfit, I hope that you find a few moments to take stock of your Advent experience. Have you prepared your heart and your home for the Christ-child?
If you have been following these Advent reflections, you know that I have tried to present a number of qualities or characteristics that I believe could be beneficial for all persons. Using Mary, the Mother of God, as well as our growing understanding of the Motherhood of Jesus, as the starting point, we all spent time reflecting on these valuable characteristics.
So the final question really is simple.
How could your life change if you choose to highlight these characteristics, to cultivate them, to make them your own, so that they came to you as easily and simply as breathing?
To truly live these characteristics – openness to life, forgiveness, self-sacrifice, unconditional love and unity – requires dedication, devotion and perseverance. As we saw yesterday, each one draws on elements of the other. It is impossible to love unconditionally but withhold forgiveness. There can be no unity without a special, undiscriminating openness to life. This is really a package deal. How radically could our world change if these were the guiding principles of our daily life, of our political endeavors, of our financial decisions, of our social interactions?
The life that Mary inspires is the life that Jesus desires. Above all things, Mary’s purpose is to bring us to her Son. When you go to Mass tonight or tomorrow, pay special attention to the figure of Mary in the nativity scene. I think I can safely promise you that when your eyes discover her place in the stable, you will immediately follow her gaze to her child, the newborn Savior of the world.
If we choose to follow Mary, to adopt those things she holds dear as our own, we will find we can look no other place than into the eyes of Christ.
Living in harmony and unity grows out of the cultivation of a few habits. Really, living in harmony and unity, within ourselves, with others, and with God could be concluded to be our main goal in life. After all, Jesus’ final prayer, according to the Gospel of John, was
That they all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they may also be in us. John 17:21
Jesus’ final prayer is about our unity, both with God and with one another. You can be sure that if this is a desire of Jesus, it is a desire of Mary, our Mother, whose purpose is always to concretely bring us into greater unity with her Son. In a way, each of the themes we have reflected on this Advent season pave the way for unity.
Open to Life – we cannot find harmony and unity with others if we are not open to experiencing their life, no matter how different it is from our own. No only must we be open to it, we must find a way to reach common ground when our differing experiences cause us to view one another in suspicious, concerning or even hostile lights.
Able to Love without Requiring Love in Return – we cannot find harmony and unity with others if we are not willing to be the first to love, to be the first to extend a hand of friendship. Being willing to love without requiring or needing love in return means making ourselves vulnerable and humble. We love not because someone else acted toward us in kindness, generosity, respect, or love first, but because we have been created in the image and likeness of Love Itself. We love because God loved us first, unconditionally and completely (cf. 1 John 4:19).
Willing to Sacrifice for Others – we cannot experience harmony and unity with others if we are not willing to give up something of ourselves for the sake of the other. The gift of perfect love, of perfect unity, is Jesus on the cross, giving His whole self for the sake of our broken, imperfect, yet beautiful selves. If we are to live out Jesus’ call for unity, we can expect nothing less to be demanded of us. The more we die to self, the more we allow God to move and shape our lives, the greater and more perfect unity we will experience.
Capable of Forgiveness – we cannot experience harmony and unity with others if we are not willing to seek and extend forgiveness. We are no longer the perfect creatures from the garden. We are broken. We are sinful. We are in need of mercy. These are not sentiments. They are facts. If we wish to find true harmony with one another and with God, we must accept the fact that we will need to become the living embodiment of forgiveness – quick to forgive and quick to seek forgiveness.
The beauty of Jesus’ final prayer is that even before He prayed it, He had prepared for us a practical, living example of how to bring it to fruition. The example of Mary’s Motherhood shines forth for each person, illuminating key moments which, when gathered together, present a path for holiness, for peace, and for unity among all peoples and most importantly, unity with her Son, Jesus our Savior.