As Christians, we are very familiar with Advent as a season of waiting, but really, our whole life is, essentially, a long season of waiting. Particularly, we wait for the last Advent—the last coming of Christ at the end of time. Every Advent gives us the opportunity to pause, and very intentionally focus on what we should be doing every day of our lives—preparing for the coming of Jesus Christ. How are we spending our time in waiting?
Let’s talk about the characters of the nativity, since there is really a lifetime’s worth of study and beauty that we can glean from diving deeper into the mystery of the great Christmas narrative through the experiences of the dynamic characters in play – Joseph and Mary, the Infant Jesus, the shepherds, the angels, the magi, and, as a whole, the Holy Family. The characters of the nativity can each teach us lessons for living our own lives in preparation for Christ’s coming this December, as well as for our own death and Christ’s coming at the end of time.
In this article, originally featured in my series on the IntegratedCatholicLife.org, I will explore some of the lessons for living from the Blessed Mother and the Infant Jesus.
Mary: Trust and Obedience
Whenever I hear the story of the Annunciation read at Mass or I read it in my Bible at home, I am stunned—over and over again—by what it must have been like to be Mary, in the presence of an angel, being asked consent by God to carry Jesus into the world. I often reflect on the tremendous amount of trust she must have had in that moment that fueled her “yes” to God and paved way for the incarnation.
And that’s the first lesson for living from Mary I want to touch on: trust.
At the Annunciation, Mary was called to exercise a great deal of trust. Then, at Christ’s birth in a manger in a foreign land…more trust. As Jesus grew, got lost in the Temple, went off to preach and to heal…trust. And then, when Jesus was condemned to die and was crucified as she wept at her only Son’s feet…more, painful trust.
Her whole life, God called Mary to radically trust in His plan for her and for her Son. We, too, are called to have that same radical trust in God. We need to trust Him when our kids wander from the faith, when we or someone in our family are diagnosed with serious illness, when our career status turns from employed to unemployed, when money is scarce, when our marriage is hurting, when our future seems uncertain or when we feel abandoned by God. In those moments, we need to trust that God is there.
Our Mother waits for you to hold her hand in your moments of brokenness, rejection, fear, abuse, betrayal, sickness, and shame. She longs to hold you, and remind you, as she does so beautifully by her own example: trust. Trust that God is nearer to you than ever before. Trust that He has conquered death and wants you to rely more completely on Him.
Mary’s second lesson for living that we will explore is: obedience.
The Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen has such a beautiful way of illustrating this lesson of Mary that I will simply refer to his words:
“In what does your life consist except two things: (1) Active duties; and (2) passive circumstances. The first is under your control; do these in God’s name. The second is outside your control; these submit to in God’s name. Consider only the present; leave the past to God’s justice, the future to his Providence. Perfection of personality does not consist in knowing God’s plan, but in submitting to it as it reveals itself in the circumstances of life.
“There is really one shortcut to sanctity—the one Mary chose in the Visitation, the one Our Lord chose in Gethsemane—abandonment to the Divine Will.”
Look to Mary this Advent as a living reminder—the best reminder who ever lived, really—that obedience to God and abandonment to His will for your life is the only shortcut to sanctity.
The Infant Jesus: The Blessedness of Littleness and Joy
God could have entered our world in any way He wanted to. But He chose to come in the form of a newborn child. No one could have guessed that the Lord of the whole universe would be introduced to us in a physical way in a crib, rather than on a throne.
And so we learn from the Infant Jesus this first lesson: the blessedness of littleness.
Chapter 4 in the Book of Wisdom says, “For old age is not honored for length of time, or measured by number of years; but understanding is gray hair for anyone, and a blameless life is ripe old age…Being perfected in a short time, they fulfilled long years; for their souls were pleasing to the Lord…” (Wisdom 4:8-9, 13)
Venerable Fulton Sheen writes, “when Wisdom [here meaning Wisdom personified in Jesus] came to earth he was a child, and when Wise Men came to Wisdom they were told to be like children. Christmas, then, is the coronation of childhood, the glorification of the young whose hearts are simple, the proclamation to aging hearts that the world need not despair and die, because the Fountain of Youth has come into it…turn time backward, make old things young again.”
Being a young mother, I am very often reminded of this lesson of the blessedness of littleness. The way my toddler son so beautifully and simply talks to Jesus throughout the day, the way he is enraptured by icons and stories about Christ, the way he loves “Mama Mary” so dearly…reminds me to think about how important it is for me to approach Jesus, as the Gospels tell us to approach him, with the innocence and purity of a child’s faith. “Unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3). As we age, our faith can have periods of stagnancy and ‘oldness.’ Advent is a crucial moment in time to “turn backward,” making our faith in Christ young again.
One more lesson we will explore from the Infant Jesus: Joy.
Lest we forget, JESUS IS the Joy to the world. Why do we possess such joy at Christ’s coming? Precisely because He came to make us sharers in His divine nature. The Son of God became man so that we children of men can learn to become sons and daughters of God. Jesus comes as a baby with a mission to save the world. To save each and every one of us. To save you. Christmas is all about joy, the joy that the Infant Jesus brings into each and every one of our hearts by way of his redeeming, personal, intense love for me and for you.
To read other articles in this series, visit the IntegratedCatholicLife.org.