Meditate On the Coming of Christ This Weekend
“Then Michael said, ‘At this moment [God] is showing us visibly how He will choose the lowly people of ignorance and sin, the outcasts of nations, and those of the highest culture and education, into the ways of His grace. As we stand here, God is allowing a band of angels to be seen visibly by shepherds on the eastern hills. The angels have assumed the forms of young men and are telling the shepherds that this night a King is born unto them, and that He is lying here in this manger dressed in swaddling clothes. Swaddling clothes are a contradiction to these men, for they have heard the unique history of these garments and how they belong to the kings who follow in the royal line of David. They are asking, "How can this be? A king from Heaven, the Messiah, dressed in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger that tells of poverty?" Others are saying, “Come, let us search for this miracle of which the angels have spoken. We would like to see swaddling clothes which only kings may wear. It would be worth traveling a hundred miles just to see them for tradition tells us they are most beautiful and costly. How did such poor people happen to get them?” The swaddling clothes will be a contradiction to the people of the earth until the end of time. They are a figure of beauty that will be symbolized in all His churches the world over – for beauty and magnificence will often attract countless people to the understanding of God. Tomorrow the shepherds will come to this cave as though it were a church. They will admire the swaddling clothes and yet not realize the God-Man’s personal, invisible blessing while they are near Him. That blessing, however, will be the means of their future conversions.'" - The Refugee from Heaven by Cora Evans
He will choose the lowly people of ignorance and sin, the outcasts of nations, and those of the highest culture and education, into the ways of His grace.
“Consider your own calling, brothers. Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. Rather, God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, so that no human being might boast before God.” (1 Corinthians 1: 26-29)
After I completed my postgraduate degree summa cum laude, I beamed with pride. It was earned respect I craved, and so I received it from both colleagues and friends alike. Somehow it seemed well deserved, so I basked in knowing I was among a rarer bunch of intelligentsia who acquired more complex academic credentials. However, I wouldn’t have overtly admitted this to anyone, because it was more of a subconscious attitude I carried.
Then Sarah was born.
When I met her for the first time, I was horrified and sadly, embarrassed. I didn’t know how to bond with a child that looked as frightening as she did those first weeks after birth. Part of my hidden shame was due to believing – wanting – to have a normal child who just might also get a Master’s degree or higher. It was a vicarious aspiration I hadn’t really considered with total honesty until the moment I held her.
But my heart slowly changed. God taught me through Sarah that He chooses to do great things from the lowliest of people. His most beautiful works are those that seem impossible. Why? Because the small, the simple, the uneducated are the channels of His grace. He would not be as visible to a calloused world without selecting the humble to be His instruments.
So now I see that I’m not much different than Sarah after all. In fact, she greatly surpasses me in spiritual matters. And in this way, God humbles me so that I, too, might become one of the lowly He calls and chooses to do great things.
“To be saints is not a privilege for the few but a vocation for everyone.” ~ Pope Francis
Just as God often asks the most unlikely folks to magnify His greatness, so too does He choose us all without partiality. There is no preferential treatment or competition in God’s eyes. We are all equally precious, equally His. It’s easy to see how sainthood might be reserved for the elite, but it’s not. In all of history, the wealthy and wise but also the ordinary and mainstream or even extremely poor have risen to the status of official canonization.
But we don’t have to seek actual canonization in order to achieve the status of sainthood. We become saints one step at a time, one day at a time. It’s not acquired overnight. There is no panacea for how you or I will be sanctified. Only God knows precisely what incidents, obstacles, people, thoughts, and encounters we need in order to grow in holiness every day.
So we are given endless choices each day that will lead us closer to our personal sanctification or away from it. Sometimes this might mean keeping our mouths shut when we really want to say something that might deeply hurt another; other times it might mean we are called to speak out when we’d rather blend in with everyone else. Personal holiness is a very intimate and specialized journey. We can learn much from our friends the saints, but we must walk the unique path God has chosen for us to enter the kingdom of Heaven.
Begin by listening to Him. Then obey. Remember that obedience is more desirable than sacrifice to Him, though it requires incredible doses of humility. And, as Fr. Cajetan Mary da Bergamo so aptly begins in his spiritual classic Humility of Heart, when we have finally reached the pinnacle of humility (irony here), then we are truly ready to enter Heaven. It is the foundation upon which all other virtues grow. So strive for humility and you will reach holiness.
Come, let us search for this miracle of which the angels have spoken.
“He is your praise; he is your God, who has done for you those great and awesome things that your own eyes have seen.” (Deuteronomy 10:21)
The miracle of the Incarnation never truly struck me until the first Christmas I was a mother. Felicity was only six weeks old, but I woke up very early on Christmas morning, even before her first feeding of the day. As I lay in bed with everything in the house still, I wept. The image of the Christ Child came to my fore, and I saw myself gently leaning over the manger, picking Him up, and cradling Him in my arms.
The gaze upon His tiny cheeks, button nose, and those little fingers wrapped around mine melted my heart into an emotional mess I was not prepared for. It was the first time I knew with certainty the fragility of human life and how helpless and dependent an infant is upon someone else to care for him or her. And that’s when it struck me that God becoming flesh like me – but not as a grown man, as a baby – was truly miraculous. I was struck with wonder and awe.
This Advent, let us meditate fondly upon the coming of the Christ Child. If you are a parent, recall the years when your children were babies and consider approaching Jesus as an infant. You will be profoundly humbled and forever changed.
“I would appeal to God, and to God I would state my plea. He does things great and unsearchable, things marvelous and innumerable.” (Job 5:8-9)
How can we comprehend the vastness of God? The finite meeting the infinite is impossible. As a creature, how can I approach my Creator with full understanding of Who He is? Realistically, I can’t. We are given glimpses of eternity, fragments of knowledge about this magnificent God. But we cannot know His fullness until we are with Him in heaven.
I’d like to think that He reveals Himself through His creation. Certainly, He has done so through Scripture and the Church, but His creation also tells a story about Him. And it’s a love story. As I teach my oldest daughter about biology, I am continually amazed at the innumerable species, some of which are still being discovered and named today (like the Venezuelan poodle moth, discovered in 2009).
Rediscover the wonders God has bestowed upon you by marveling at the world around you. Take time each day to ponder one aspect of creation, and then thank Him for delighting in you.
Beauty and magnificence will often attract countless people to the understanding of God.
“Man’s maker was made man that He, Ruler of the stars, might nurse at His mother’s breast; that the Bread might hunger, the Fountain thirst, the Light sleep, the Way be tired on its journey; that Truth might be accused of false witnesses, the Teacher be beaten with whips, the Foundation be suspended on wood; that Strength might grow weak; that the Healer might be wounded; that Life might die.” ~ St. Augustine of Hippo
It has been said that three things crack open a wounded heart: beauty, love, and suffering. Perhaps also truth if made known in a manner of charity. How else will we be drawn to God except by way of His love? And His love, of course, is unveiled in beauty: grand works of classical sculpture, paintings, literature, music, philosophy. We see snippets of God when we are enraptured by a still life, enchanted by a harp solo, or immersed in the insights of a great philosopher.
Jesus revealed something even more through His life: that humility comes by way of humiliation. As creatures of great pride, we are lured by the truth of humility. It captivates us. “The Healer might be wounded; that Life might die.” Can such truth be captured in more profound words? Beauty, love, suffering, truth: it is all there, all in those nine stark words.
If you long for knowledge of God, plunge yourself into studying the early Church Fathers, the great Renaissance painters, poets, and sculptors. Study not just the people themselves but their work that offers an excerpt of what makes your heart sing: beauty, love, suffering, and truth.
“Does God proclaim Himself in the wonders of creation? No. All things proclaim Him, all things speak. Their beauty is the voice by which they announce God, by which they sing, ‘It is you who made me beautiful, not me myself but you.’” ~ St. Augustine of Hippo
God often speaks to me through flowers, butterflies, and birds. Once, I was desolate and ruminating on some trial or another that happened upon my family several years back. And I could not break free from the bondage of that obsession. Daylight would pierce every crevice of the windows in my home, yet it would not penetrate my darkened heart of gloom. I would look at the sky and observe its colorful sunsets, its whimsical cloud formations, but I couldn’t truly see the Lord in these gifts of creation.
Then I took a walk, as I always did, with our dog – on that same old path, day after day. There was nothing extraordinary about this walk, except I came across a little sparrow building her nest on the covered porch of a neighbor. In that moment, I remembered the verse about “are you not worth more than many sparrows” and the dismal phase immediately dissipated. I knew Jesus was speaking to me in that little bird, reminding me that I should not worry, because the sparrow doesn’t fret over where she will get her next meal or how God might provide shelter for her. She just believes. And so should I.
Be attentive. God often surprises us if we allow Him room to speak and move in us. Even if you are depressed or going through an intense tribulation, be attentive to Him. Allow space in your heart for receptivity to His grace, and it will abundantly overflow when you least expect it.