Sunday, December 18, 2011

Room for the Child (Reflections on the Fourth Sunday of Advent)

This is the irrational season
where love blooms bright and wild
had Mary been filled with reason, 
there'd have been no room for the Child. - Madaleine L'Engle

Advent is the excavation of our hearts. We begin to clean, dust off the cobwebs of the year, the words we collected, the stories we've been harboring, the sorrows and wild joys. In Advent we are making ourselves ready for the coming of Emmanuel. God with us. This Advent season, I want to offer a few reflections every week, to excavate my own heart and to prepare for Him with you. 

Fourth Sunday of Advent

We beseech thee, Almighty God, to purify our consciences by 
thy daily visitation, that when thy Son Jesus Christ cometh he
may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; through the
same Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with 
thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for 
ever. Amen. 

I first encountered Mary in Sacré Coeur, Paris, France, on a hot June afternoon. We had been hefting our too-full schoolbags all afternoon. The sweat beaded on our foreheads and my grey striped shirt felt sticky in the late afternoon sun. My classmates wandered around the cathedral with the strict admonition to watch out for pickpockets and not to be drawn in by the men selling colorful scarves and trinkets (all they want to do, they told us, is rip off American tourists). All I could think about was how much better it would have been to sit outside in the sun with my friends' digital cameras and café au lait, rather than walking through one more echoing marble building.

I met Mary the way you meet a friend who slips in to share the pew with you on a Sunday morning. Her presence slipped in next to me as I stood, reluctantly and skeptically, in front of flickering candles and a statue of her presenting her Child. It was as if she stood next to me, this woman who was nothing more to me than the blue dress I had always coveted in the church Christmas pageant. Mary, who had been just one more person in a big story, stood next to me. And as I stood there, I could almost hear her chiding me. "Is there room for Him in you, Hilary?" 

We empty ourselves to make room for Him in Advent. We clear out the lies we have told ourselves, the excuses, the thoughts we think He can't hear. We scrub down the walls from the splattered paint and crayon stains. We vacuum. We wipe windows and open doors to let the air in.

I realized that afternoon that my heart was not ready for the Gift. I did not have room. Oh, I was full of things - questions about beauty and truth, secrets about crushes and plans for college, the things I had heard and the other things I had done, the good words of Til We Have Faces and my first encounter with Flannery O'Connor. I was full to the brim with opinions and ideas and feelings.

But I did not have room for Him.

That day, among the cheap white votives and the wisps of incense, standing in front of a statue of Mary and Jesus, I heard her ask me this question. I can almost picture her - her hand on her belly, steadying herself in the delicate balance of pregnancy, looking at me looking for Him. Is there room for Him in you? This is the question I have been asking all Advent. How do I make room for Him? How do I make myself a mansion prepared?

Making room for the Child and the bright, wild, blooming love is not an algebra problem. It is not a set of mandates we follow. It is not a packet of assembly instructions. It is not closing our eyes and wishing hard or lighting twenty three candles instead of twenty two.

Like Mary, we need only to say that first, messy, nervous, yes. I, like Mary, need to hear that nothing will be impossible with God and respond, "Behold, I am the handmaiden of the Lord. Let it be unto me according to Thy word."

"Is there room for Him in you, Hilary?" She asked me in June five years ago. And this Sunday I stand next to her, turn my eyes to Him, and whisper, "Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus." 


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