Be Ready for the Best Christmas Ever With These Reflections
These daily reflections for the fourth and final week of advent will lead you into a more fruitful and joyful Christmas as you meditate on the incredible mystery of the Word Made Flesh.
“Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised previously through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, the gospel about his Son, descended from David according to the flesh, but established as Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness through resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord. Through him we have received the grace of apostleship, to bring about the obedience of faith, for the sake of His name, among all the Gentiles.” (Rom 1:1-5)
The second reading from today’s Mass is the opening of St. Paul’s letter to the Romans. It’s not just a giant run-on sentence—in his salutation, St. Paul gives a summary of the Good News. The coming of Christ was promised in the writings of the Old Testament, and Jesus fulfilled all the promises: He was born in the lineage of David (Matt 1:1-17), endured the Passion and resurrected on the third day (Matt 28:1-20). The Church that Christ founded has its bedrock in grace, and it was the apostles and their successors that carried on the mission of Christ—that being to “make disciples of all nations” (Matt 28:19). Jesus came for all nations, and wishes that all of humanity be reconciled to God.
Only one week remains before Christmas and it’s helpful to have big-picture reminders like that. Within that big picture, let’s zoom in on the phrase that has the most to do with the season of Advent: that Jesus “descended from David according to the flesh.” Jesus is the long-awaited king to sit in the throne of David (2 Sam 7:12-13, Luke 1:32-33). He is our High Priest that opened the gates of heaven to us and to all the nations. It’s very important that He lifted the veil of the Holy of Holies through His flesh (Heb 10:20). He wasn’t a demigod like in the Greek myths; neither was He a god with an imaginary human body. Jesus was a real, historical person! It was in His flesh that He united Himself intimately with humanity. He knew joy, sadness, hunger, heat on a hot day, and what it felt like to work. That very flesh was pierced, battered, and scourged; that flesh rose from the dead; that flesh is now the bread of angels and the greatest gift the Church has.
“How shall I know this?” (Luke 1:18)
This is a fundamental question on the part of humanity when encountering God. Each one of us has to answer this basic question of belief: God, how do I know if it’s true? The will of God often bursts into our lives without warning. One way or another, we have to respond to the invitation of God to let Him work in our lives.
Zechariah questioned Gabriel in a manner that prompted a reproving response, Zechariah was either very headstrong or lost his wits in the situation. This was coming from someone who was called righteous and blameless (Luke 1:6), who theoretically should’ve known better. Wouldn’t a blameless priest be ideally trained to be able to respond to a heavenly vision? It should be a lesson in humility for all of us! No matter how much internal strength we think we have, God always finds new ways to teach us humility.
We can only discern the connotation of Zechariah’s question by the stern response of Gabriel (Luke 1:19-20). What was it in Zechariah’s questioning that raised Gabriel’s ire? Angelic apparitions have a common start to the conversation. The first words from an angel in the Scriptures is “be not afraid.” How awesome a vision of an angel must be, radiating the divine love of God! Zechariah “was troubled… and fear fell upon him.” Even though the vision before him was overpowering with wonder, might, and fear, Zechariah still dared to doubt the truth and the possibility of Gabriel's words. This is why the Archangel said, “you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.” Despite his position as a priest, his faith was found wanting when God tested him. God still gave him another chance, however, and through this history He reminds us to reexamine our own faith andto never stop asking Him to strengthen it.
“For he assumed at his first coming the lowliness of human flesh, and so fulfilled the design you formed long ago, and opened for us the way to eternal salvation, that, when he comes again in glory and majesty and all is at last made manifest, we who watch for that day may inherit the great promise in which now we dare to hope.” –Preface I of Advent
For weeks, we’ve heard that Jesus is coming and that we should prepare for Him. This preface (the prayer at Mass said right before the Holy, Holy, Holy) reminds us of Jesus’ second coming. It will be a sight to behold: the Son of Man coming in power and glory, the dead rising, and the elect will be caught up together to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thes 4:16-17).
There are even more occurrences when Jesus will come! He stands at the door of our hearts every day, patiently knocking and waiting for us to open to Him (Rev 3:20). We can receive Him with every prayer and act of charity. This goes for all sacramental activities, too. The Word becomes flesh at every Mass! Jesus humbly comes to us under the guise of bread and wine. Jesus comes as the divine physician in confession, healing souls burdened by sin.
If your prayer life is lagging, ask Jesus to revive it. If you feel like Advent has come and gone without much spiritual progress, start right now. If you haven’t been to confession, resolve to go as soon as possible, even if that's after Christmas. His grace is available now! Jesus knocks on the door of your heart at this very moment.
Wednesday, 12/21 – St. Peter Canisius
“When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.’” (Luke 1:41-42)
The gifts of the Holy Spirit are taugh to confirmation candidates. Those gifts aren’t just platitudes—they really do work. The Holy Spirit is active in the world in helping us get more attuned to God. Elizabeth is a great example. As far as we know from the text, she didn’t know Mary was pregnant. Because she became filled with the Holy Spirit, knowledge was revealed to her that she otherwise wouldn’t have known. That is, at least as far as the text tells us.
The Holy Spirit revealed things to the early Christians in amazing ways. At the Ascension, the apostles didn’t understand why Jesus was going away—highlighted by the their question, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). Jesus patiently promises to send them the Holy Spirit; the apostles returned to the upper room. At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit opened the eyes of the apostles to understand everything Jesus had taught them. Their response? Preaching to all that Jesus was the Messiah. These were men that had spent a long time with Jesus, but they could only understand so far on their own. They needed the Spirit to unlock His gifts of knowledge, wisdom, and understanding.
We need the Holy Spirit just as much as the apostles did! Is there a Church teaching that you struggle with? Rather than cast it off, ask the Holy Spirit for help. Perhaps you find Mass boring? Ask the Holy Spirit for understanding and the grace to read a book on the liturgy. The same Spirit who rushed through the upper room on Pentecost and illuminated the minds of the apostles is the Spirit that Christ wants to be alive in all of us.
“He has shown the strength of his arm, and has scattered the proud in their conceit. He has cast down the mighty from their thrones and has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.” (Luke 1:51-53)
In our world, there’s a noticeable disparity between the proud, the mighty, and the rich and the lowly, the hungry, and the poor. There has been, is now, and will be. Jesus Himself told us that the poor will always be with us (Matt 26:10). That’s not a reason to neglect works of charity—far from it. Jesus wasn’t trying to be depressing! He knew the human heart, and that no amount of earthly “progress” can eradicate concupiscence and suffering.
In this light, the promise of God to come “with vindication” takes on a fuller light (Isaiah 35:4). Jesus accomplished exactly what Mary said in her song of joy: He cast down the mighty and lifted up the lowly, bestowing His grace upon every man and woman regardless of station (John 1:16, Titus 2:11). For the rich who yearned to be richer, they were left wanting; for those hungry for righteousness, they were filled (Matthew 5:6). We are not stuck in a broken world, the grace and peace of Christ awaits us! That, truly, is good news!
The world is broken and it needs fixing. We need to do our part—the corporal and spiritual works of mercy—but we also need to realize that the first piece of brokenness that needs fixing is in our hearts. Christ is the only one that has the power to fix that!
“O Emmanuel, our King and Giver of Law: come to save us, Lord our God!” (Antiphon for the Magnificat in evening prayer for the day)
The “O Antiphons” are an ancient part of our Catholic heritage. The first mention of them being prayed is in the early 6th century, and they have been prayed during evening prayer (also called vespers) since at least the 8th century. The antiphons start on December 17th and last until today. Each one begins by calling upon Jesus under a particular title, alluding to the messianic prophecies of the Old Testament. It’s a good reminder to us that salvation history is a single story. There wasn’t a rupture between the Old and the New covenants but fulfillment (Matthew 5:17).
The “O Antiphons” also feature a common verb: come. The verb is in the form of a request—even a command. Collectively, we plead to Our Lord, come! Come teach us; rescue us; free us; save us. As we read yesterday, humanity groans under the burden of sin, unable to free itself. We need a savior!
Liturgically, it’s a beautiful arrangement to have the antiphon paired with the Magnificat. The antiphon recalls the long waiting of the Jewish people for the messiah, and Mary’s song of praise embraces the past and looks forward to the future. For our celebration of Advent as it closes, try adopting this model of prayer. Remember when you ached for God (or felt He was absent) and think of when He came with His peace. From there, join with Our Lady in her joyful hymn and praise God for everything He has done for you and your loved ones. Finally, end with looking ahead to what Jesus promised: eternal life for all those who follow Him.
Saturday 12/24– Christmas Eve
“Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; for he has come to his people and set them free. He has raised up for us a mighty Savior, born of the house of his servant David.” (Luke 2:68-69)
The great feast is begun! During this fourth week of Advent, St. Paul gave us a brief recap of the gospel (Sunday) and how important it is to trust God without doubt (Monday). We celebrate Jesus’ coming tomorrow, but He comes to us in many different ways (Tuesday). We need the Holy Spirit to enlighten us (Wednesday) and we need saving (Thursday). The best response we can have to God for all of those things is praise (Friday).
Praise is exactly what Zechariah does as soon as he can speak. Just like Elizabeth at the Visitation, Zechariah is “filled with the Holy Spirit” (Luke 2:67). The Holy Spirit enables us to know God and praise Him; as St. Paul noted, “no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit’” (1 Cor 12:3).
Not everyone has a joyful heart around the holidays, and praising God in that state of mind is as fun as a shopping trip on Christmas Eve. Let’s remember our brothers and sisters in that situation, and pray for an outpouring on the Holy Spirit upon them. They need saving from their burdens; they wait for Christ.
Let us rejoice! “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder, and his name will be called ‘Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.’ Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David, and over his kingdom, to establish it, and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and for evermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this” (Isaiah 9:6-7).