During this season of Advent, we need to prepare for the Incarnation of our Savior. We prepare not just to remember an event 2,000 years ago, but also because of our desire to have a more personal and deepening relationship with Jesus.
The Incarnation means that God became man; our Savior entered the world in human flesh. The story of the Incarnation includes all the ground work laid by our Heavenly Father, who was keeping His promise to save us, a promise made to Adam and Eve after they rejected Him. Some of that ground work consisted of the following: Prophets had to predict it. Mary had to say “yes.” Joseph had to have an angel appear to him. Mary and Joseph had to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem for the census and to pay the taxes. And, a whole lot more. Any great event requires preparation.
The story of the Incarnation is even more wonderful because the saga doesn’t end at Bethlehem; it continues in all our lives. It is also a very personal story because God invites us to welcome Jesus into our individual lives. God doesn’t want to save a faceless “us.” He wants to save you and me. Each of us is known to God by name and the offer of salvation includes a very personal decision to accept, to believe in and have Faith in His Son, Jesus, and then to make our life conform to this individual call to be His committed follower. Because Faith—the gift of believing—is a life-long journey, our decision for Christ is ongoing.
To participate in this great ongoing story, we also need to prepare. The Scripture readings at Mass during the four Sundays of Advent provide us with clear directions on how to prepare for Christ’s coming anew into our hearts this Christmas.
First Sunday of Advent – Nov. 29
To prepare for Christ coming anew this Christmas, we want to “be watchful and be alert!” These words from St. Mark in this Sunday’s Gospel brought to mind the excitement in children and their parents as they await the coming of special guests, such as grandparents, relatives or very dear friends. The anticipation keeps building with family members as all the details of cooking a special meal unfold. The expectation and true excitement of the children usually manifest themselves through lots of energy in running around and rejoicing.
We can also experience this joyful anticipation and hope as we await the coming of our Savior by pondering the real meaning of Christmas. We need this Savior who comes to restore us to friendship with God, a friendship we cannot re-establish on our own, but which requires God’s action and our response. Salvation is the restoration of friendship with God. The constant teaching of the Bible is that this friendship was lost by the sin of Adam and Eve. The beauty of Christmas is that this Child born in Bethlehem is the very presence of God’s love come into the world so that all who believe in Him might have eternal life.
Jesus is the Savior whom we need because in Him is the grace necessary for us to overcome all of the dysfunction, sinfulness, shame and guilt that separate us from God and from one another. In Him is the grace to overcome all obstacles to friendship with God. In Bethlehem, “a Savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord.” During Advent, let us pray for the grace of an experience of a deeper realization of how much we need Jesus as our Savior.
Second Sunday of Advent – Dec. 6
To prepare for Christmas, we also want to “prepare the way of the Lord.” In the Sunday readings, the prophet Isaiah and St. Mark call us to prepare ourselves in the proper way. In the busy-ness of the season, we must be intentional about guarding our times of prayer. An especially inspiring way to pray is to read over and ponder a scripture passage that describes the various circumstances that leads up to the birth of Jesus. A prayer card, with pertinent passages from the Bible can be printed by going to diolc.org/deeper. Click on either “Praying with Scripture” for Advent or “Mysteries of the Rosary,” which provides an image of each of the joyful mysteries of Jesus’ life along with a statement about how this mystery applies to our life.
It is also very calming to allow five or 10 minutes of silence after thinking about an event in the life of Mary and Joseph leading up to the birth of Jesus. This period of silence will not be “wasted time” but an opportunity for us to open our hearts more deeply to the Person of Jesus, and better understand the meaning of these holy events.
Third Sunday of Advent – Dec. 13
To prepare for Christmas, we want to “make straight the way of the Lord.” The prophet Isaiah, in the first reading for Sunday Mass, tells us that the Savior will “bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners.” (Is. 61:1-2) This message is fulfilled by Jesus when we receive the sacrament of reconciliation. We ask the Holy Spirit to bring to mind our habits of sin, so that we can make a good confession and cooperate with the grace from the sacrament to begin to break those damaging habits. Receiving the sacrament of confession during Advent frees us from sin, such as selfishness, anger, lack of forgiveness, guilt, bitterness and the effects these sins have upon us. As our hearts are purified, there is more room for Jesus to bring us His inner peace and joy.
Fourth Sunday of Advent – Dec. 20
To prepare for Christmas, we want to give our “yes” to God. St. Luke, in the Sunday Gospel, describes for us the announcement of the angel Gabriel to Mary, that she would be the Mother of the Savior. Mary did not understand and so the angel explained that this was God’s plan to save us—His way of being faithful to His promise to rescue us from our captivity to sin and open the way for us to spend eternity with Him in perfect peace and joy forever.
The coming of the Savior was dependent on Mary’s “yes” to the words of the angel Gabriel. And the same is true for us. Our free response also needs to be “yes” in welcoming Jesus ever anew into our hearts this Christmas.
This four-week preparation of our hearts for Christmas will make
the coming of Emmanuel—God with us—mean so much more. We will be given not only
a deeper realization of our need for Jesus as Savior, but we will also be able
to receive Him more fully as our Lord and Prince of Peace as we celebrate in a
deeper and more personal way the true meaning
Director of the Office for Catechesis and Evangelization
Published December 2020 Catholic Life Issue