As a type-a, “doer,” organization fiend who thrives off of color-coded to-do lists, my ears perk up at the call from this week’s Gospel for the second Sunday of Advent. I. Love. Preparing. I have long filled my Advent with added devotions and Christmas crafts and carefully scheduled decluttering plans that would make Marie Kondo proud, and since becoming a mom, I’ve dragged my kid into it wholesale as well. Added prayer time with my seven new devotionals and meticulously planned penances and holiday traditions and baking and personal sacrifice and projects - I am one big ball of preparation, from the end of November through Christmas day.
But something struck me in the second reading for this weekend, from the letter of St. Paul to the Philippians: “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus.” The Psalm response drives home the same point. “The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy,” we cry, echoing the Israelites rejoicing in their return from the Babylonian captivity. We celebrate what He has done for us, over and above our own earthly accomplishments. We prepare for His coming, but we don’t will it into being with our deeds.
I start off every single Advent with a list of good works to complete. If I check off all of my good works, it was a good Advent. Rougher Advents happen when life gets in the way and my to-do list remains unfinished on December 24. But what if I’m overdoing it, just a bit? What if all of my good intentions are getting in the way of God’s desire to work in me? If I treat Advent (and Lent, for that matter!) like a self-help plan on a divine timer, am I not perhaps missing the point?
How, then, am I to calm my inner-overachiever? Once I’ve decked the halls and scheduled my planner full of Meaningful Advent Moments(™) for my family and friends, and I still find Advent seems to be wanting, what then am I called to prepare?
The first reading from this Sunday gives us some clues. “Jerusalem,” calls Baruch. “Take off your robe of mourning and misery; put on the splendor of Glory of God forever: wrapped in the cloak of justice from God, bear on your head the mitre that displays the glory of the eternal name.” This is an interior call. I like to pretend that my robe of mourning and misery can be cast off by baking and caroling, but the truth is, Baruch is calling for an internal shift, a work of the heart. If I am truly to display the glory of the eternal name, I have to know that I am worthy to do so. We so often get stuck in the habit of wearing mourning and misery every day (it seems more comfortable, if we’ve forgotten what the splendor of the Glory of God is like). If I’m truly going to feel the grace of God clothing me in His splendor, then the preparation I need in order to be ready for that has got to be done in my heart.
Perhaps you, like me, are struck by the feeling of unworthiness that comes when we contemplate God dwelling in our own human mess. This is the perfect thing to meditate on as we prepare for the Incarnation! I’m reminded of a beautiful quote from Servant of God Dorothy Day: “I’m so glad that Jesus was born in a stable. Because my soul is so much like a stable. It is poor and in unsatisfactory condition because of guilt, falsehoods, inadequacies, and sin. Yet I believe that if Jesus can be born in a stable, perhaps He can also be born in me.”
There’s nothing in the world that I can do to make a stable holy enough to house the Savior of the World. And yet, He chose to be born there. He makes it holy by His presence. There’s also nothing in the world that I can do to make myself worthy of “putting on the splendor of the Glory of God forever.” And yet, we hear that “God will show all the Earth your splendor.” God makes us holy by His presence. And He’s coming, whether my halls are decked or not. That interior preparation, that work of the heart, it’s not because I can will Him to do anything by my good works. It’s so that, when He comes, I am ready to receive Him.
So in these holy weeks of Advent, as you shop and decorate and carol and clean, spend some time also preparing the humble stable of your heart. Sweep away your guilt and falsehoods with moments of silence and prayer, stolen from the business of daily life. Shake the cobwebs of your own inadequacies off the walls with the sweetness of giving alms those less fortunate than you. Tidy up the spaces marred by sin by taking advantage of the sacrament of Reconciliation and making small acts of penance and reparation throughout your Advent days. And then rest, and know that you’ve done the work of readying the stable of your heart, and trust that the Lord of All has made it holy.