Preparing for Christmas

Benjamin Church meets World

In her abundant wisdom, the Church gives us four weeks to prepare for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, but how little time four weeks really is. Of course, four weeks used to be much longer. I remember when I was a boy, and our house was bigger and the trees were taller. The time between lunch and dinner seemed to last for ever, and four weeks was practically a life time. It seemed forever before all four candles on the advent wreath were lit, and the Lord was finally ready to come. Maybe this is because my daily schedule was occupied with only three mandatory things; breakfast, lunch, and dinner. My Christmas preparations were similarly small; I had three presents to buy, one for my father, one for my mother, and one for a sibling, since we would draw names and buy gifts one for another. Once those presents were bought and wrapped, I was ready for Christmas to come.

Now that I am older, Advent is much shorter. My calendar is littered with appointments and events, classes in the morning, exercise, meetings, things to do and to get done. It seems that the days rush by like train cars, full of goods and services going out in bulk. I feel sadly unprepared for Christmas. Of course, I have the necessary presents bought and wrapped and I mailed some Christmas cards. There is a little tree in my room, made of cardboard and green crepe paper and topped with a little aluminum foil star that can’t seem to stay up straight. My crèche is set out and, with Mary and Joseph and the manger with a little hollow spot for the baby Jesus when he arrives on Christmas day. However, with all this, I do not feel prepared for Christmas.

After all, if Christmas is the coming of the Lord, how do we prepare for that? We vacuum and dust and straighten the furniture for the relatives to come. We set out milk and cookies for Santa Claus. But for almighty God, what do you do? What would he want to see when he comes to my house? I suppose he would want to see my heart swept and straightened. He would want to see all those unimportant things put in their place, and see faith and love at the center of my life. At least, there should be a space at the center of my life, like the space at the center of my crèche, for the baby Jesus when he comes.

It sounds easy when I write it just now, but moving the furniture of the heart is much more difficult than moving the furniture of the house. Four weeks hardly seem sufficient. A whole life hardly seems sufficient to make space for the eternal and almighty God. Sometimes I think he must take up a lot of space, and require me to move all my spiritual furniture. Maybe this is why Jesus came like a little baby at Christmas, so that we do not need to move much furniture to make room for him. A little manger or a crib, or a couch cushion is enough space that he can come into our lives. And yet, we often leave him out in the front yard of our lives, out with the plastic wise men and the inflatable Santa Claus. Maybe we are afraid, like Herod was afraid, that this baby is far too dangerous to own even a manger in our kingdom?

Perhaps this is the trouble I have gotten myself into. I have often left a manger for the baby Jesus, but now I am starting to feel that the manger clashes with the rest of the furniture in my heart. Maybe I need to change the sofa, or the drapes, or the whole house. Four weeks hardly seems like enough time to prepare for Christmas.

[Originally written during my time in seminary – Fr. Benjamin]