To travel or not to travel is a question that many people are wrestling with this holiday season. Weighing risks against the desire to be with loved ones is a sign of prudence.
However, regardless of our decision, the weeks preceding Christmas remind us that the most important journey we undertake is the interior journey of the heart. It’s what Advent is about. As people of faith, we wait for Christmas, not as passive bystanders, but as active participants in the journey to Bethlehem.
The lighting of the Advent wreath symbolizes the centuries-old pilgrimage of the Israelites who prepared the way for the Messiah. Week by week, Christians ponder all that preceded the birth of Jesus, becoming agents of conversion because the interior journey should always inspire action.
Consider that immediately after Mary learned that she was chosen to be the Mother of God, she hurried to the hill country of Judea to be of assistance to Elizabeth. She didn’t wait to be told that Elizabeth, pregnant in her old age, could use some help. Mary was full of grace, and to be full of grace is to be filled with love.
Mary’s action prompts the question: How can I be of service to those in need? Is there someone in my parish whose vulnerability to COVID-19 has kept them from attending Mass? If so, why not ask permission to bring Eucharist to them? If that’s not possible, a phone call, a Christmas card or an offer to shop for them are all ways to bring Christ to those who are sheltering in place.
Providing gifts for angel tree recipients, sharing Christmas cookies with a neighbor and contributing to the food bank are just a few ways we can bring hope to individuals and families who have fallen on hard times.
Every act of kindness when done in the name of Christ is a participation in the Incarnation, building up the Kingdom of God one act of love at a time.
When Mary entered the home of Zechariah, she graced their threshold with holiness, and together with Elizabeth and Zechariah formed the first Christian community. Praising God who had come to earth in the person of Mary, the elderly couple recognized Jesus in the womb of Mary, whose body served as the first tabernacle.
Hidden in plain sight, Jesus was present to them in a way that’s not so different from the way Jesus is present to us in churches throughout the world. It begs the question: When was the last time I spent time with God, simply gazing at Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament?
If thoughts like “I’m too busy” or “There’s too much to do” come to mind when the Holy Spirit nudges you to pay a visit to the nearest church, consider that Mary and Joseph dropped everything and left their home to travel to Bethlehem when it was anything but convenient.
Mary had every reason to stay home, but once again she embarked on a physically taxing journey, guided only by the faith that enlightened and informed her every action. With the birth of Jesus imminent, the Virgin Mother trusted God.
During days of travel and uncertainty, she held fast to the words of the prophet, “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times” (Mi 5:2).
Mary left Nazareth and all that was familiar to her, venturing into the unknown, armed only with the calm assurance that comes with following the will of God. After Mary consented to be the Mother of God, there were no more angelic visitations. Like us, Mary had to discern God’s will through prayerful listening to the people and events in her life. In aligning her will with the will of God, Mary found the courage and wisdom to face all that life as the Mother of God would demand of her.
As exemplar of faith and humility, Mary is not only the Mother of God, she is also our mother and will never leave nor forsake us. As the countdown to Christmas continues, we are reminded that although the days are far spent, the journey continues.
Therefore, let’s make the most of the remaining days in hopeful anticipation that our journey to Bethlehem will find us bowing in humble adoration before the God who became man in the “City of Bread” so that he could feed us and fill us with his love.