The Second Sunday of Advent: Put
Off the Toiling and Let Love In
“I am not going to make it! I am not going to make it!” muttered the lady in the supermarket the first week of Christmas.
“It” probably referred to the massive preparation needed to provide her family with a beautiful Christmas. There were gifts to buy, to wrap, and some to send. There were meals to prepare and parties to attend. There was the house. It had to be immaculate. Her husband’s mother would be visiting. Enough said. Then the kids. They seem to have more parties to attend and higher expectations made of them then adults. And then there were Christmas cards. How was she supposed to get all this done for Christmas? “I’m not going to make it,” she muttered.
The preparations for what we have turned Christmas into bring so much stress that we forget what Christmas really is. Yes, we all know we want to keep Christ in Christmas, but the steps needed to summon up what we think are the necessary feelings and emotions have overshadowed the meaning of the feast. The prescribed Christmas feelings of love, joy and peace cannot flow from the solid month of stress which is December in the United States.
So, what are we to do? Well, that is precisely what Advent is all about. We are to prepare for the celebration of God’s presence as one of us.
What I have found, and I know that I have mentioned this to people many times, is that God cannot be outdone in generosity, not just in generosity with our money, but in generosity with our time. Here’s a wonderful Divine paradox: The busier we are, the more time we need to set aside for the Lord. The more time we set aside for the Lord, then the better our priorities are accomplished. What are we to do? We have to set aside more time than we normally spend in prayer.
John the Baptist came to help people get their priorities straight to prepare for the celebration of the Messiah among them. He told them to reform their lives, repent, not to presume that just because they were sons of Abraham that they will be saved, but instead to take action and produce the fruit of their conversions.
There are more important things to do then make cookies and buy presents. Yes, these things need to be accomplished, but their are more important things to do. We have to read the Christmas sections of Isaiah, the beginning of chapters 9 & 11. We have to meditate on the wonders of the events leading up to the first Christmas, the annunciation to a young girl that her union with God was so complete that God had chosen her to become a human being through her. Her immediate response was to bring the joy and charity of God’s coming presence to an elderly cousin who needed help as her child was coming. We have to meditate on the first Christmas, when a stinky barn became the first receiving hall for the King of Kings and townspeople passed by unnoticing while shepherds heard the announcement from angels. A good meditation is to put ourselves in the various roles of the Christmas miracle. What if I were Mary or Joseph or Elizabeth or an innkeeper or a townsmen or a shepherd? Am I open enough to the spiritual to hear Angels announcing Gloria? Are my eyes open enough to the spiritual to see a star? Will I ever be that wise or will I continually walk by Bethlehem with its hidden new born treasure?
Among the numerous Christmas stories, and poems is the wonderful folktale of Bilfina:
Bilfina, the Housewife, scrubbing her pane
Saw three old sages ride down the lane,
Saw three gray travelers pass her door—
Gaspar, Balthazar and Melchior.
“Where journey you, sirs?” she asked of them.
Balthazar answered, “To Bethlehem,
For we have news of a marvelous thing,
Born in a stable is Christ the King.”
“Give Him my welcome!”
Then Gaspar smiled,
“Come with us, mistress, to greet the child.”
“Oh, happily, happily would I fare,
Were my dusting through and I’d polished the stair.”
Old Melchior leaned on his saddle horn,
“Then send but a gift to the small Newborn.’
“Oh, gladly, gladly, I’d send him one,
Were the hearthstone swept
and my weaving done.
As soon as I’ve baked my bread,
I’ll fetch him a pillow for his head,
And a coverlet too,” Bilfina said.
“When the rooms are aired and the linen dry,
I’ll look at the Babe,”
But the three rode by.
She worked for a day, and a night and a day,
Then gifts in her hands, took up her way.
But she never found where the Christ child lay.
And she still wanders at Christmastide,
Houseless whose house was all her pride.
Whose heart was tardy, whose gifts were late;
Wanders and knocks at every gate.
Crying, “Good people, the bells begin!
Put off your toiling and let love in.”
Put off your toiling and let love in. The preparation for Christmas should not be the time of stress that we have allowed society to change it into. Our preparations for Christmas should be a time of prayer. The gift buying and giving and receiving should not be a matter of amassing possessions or of flattery, but a sign of the life giving sacrificial love that came to the world when the one who would be crucified was born.
One of the most beautiful Christmas I ever spent was the Christmas of my novitiate year with the Salesians. On one hand it was tough because we were not allowed to spend Christmas with our families. We couldn’t give gifts. We weren’t allowed to shop. Even if we were allowed, we didn’t have any money. On the other hand, we were taught to focus in on the one thing that mattered: celebrating Christ’s presence in our lives. Christmas was particularly joyful because we were forced to focus only on the celebration.
I haven’t had the luxury of being able to do that since that Christmas. Nor do you have the luxury of just forgetting about everything other than the spiritual preparation. You have children that you want to be fascinated with the joy of God’s coming. You have to make Christmas happen in your home. Or do you? I have to make Christmas happen for my parish. Or do I? Instead of being stressed over what we have to do, we need to put ourselves before the Lord and let him make Christmas happen.
Yes, proper celebrations take time and hard work. But Mary of Bethany had the better part. She stopped to enjoy the presence of the Lord while her sister, Martha, busied herself about. We can do both, enjoy the presence of the Lord and prepare well for the celebration if we unite both. Our preparations must flow from our prayers to God. Then the Lord will make Christmas happen. Then, unlike the stressed lady in the supermarket, we will make it.