As a treat this Thanksgiving, I bought my eleven-year-old mutt a freeze-dried turkey wing to gnaw on. He is showing signs of his age, and it takes him a bit longer to do things. Like eat a turkey wing.
I’ve been watching his routine as he works to make the wing edible. First, he buries it, often guarding it against imaginary intruders who would like nothing better than to get their paws on his soggy, chewed up wing. Next, he digs it up, because a buried wing isn’t worth much to a dog. Then he carries it around, not sure what to do with it. It’s not ready to eat yet, but he can’t resist holding onto it. Finally, he settles down for a chew, working it between his teeth to soften it up. And then he starts the entire process over again.
I wondered if I shouldn’t just toss the wing and get him something softer that he could finish in one go. And that’s when my thoughts turned to Advent.
Too often, we seek instant gratification. To use secular examples related to Christmas, we want pre-packaged cookie dough with the frosting included. A gift that’s wrapped and ready to go before we leave the store. Trees and wreaths that come already decorated. No effort necessary. We think our relationship with God should be like that. We put our attention on the secular celebrations and skip prayer time because we are too busy with family functions, work parties and the like.
Then, on Christmas Eve, we expect an instant transformation. Now’s the time to get serious about Christ. We go to a convenient Mass, complaining all the while about scarce parking, crowded seating, and the length of the service. And then, with that part over, it’s on to the presents, the food and drink, and our favorite television specials.
Maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad way to celebrate Christ’s birth if we hadn’t been celebrating the entire season of Advent. When do our favorite Christmas specials come on TV? During Advent. When is the Christmas office party, where we eat rich foods? Before Christmas. When do we exchange gifts with co-workers, our Bible study table, and friends? Long before Christmas Eve.
The four weeks of Advent are meant to prepare us for the birth of the King. The birth of the Christ wasn’t merely a sweet moment to welcome an infant into the family—with the addition of angels, shepherds and Wise Men. The coming of Jesus meant the arrival of an all-powerful Lord who would topple earthly rulers, defeat Satan and death, and change the world forever.
Mary and Joseph welcomed Jesus with love. The shepherds welcomed Him with awe, and the angels welcomed His birth with joy and song. Not trees and cookies and wrapped gifts. Those things are nice if they are used as expressions of love and joy and awe. They usually aren’t, because we haven’t done the right preparation.
Getting ready for the birth of the Savior involves adjusting our priorities and putting our spiritual selves in order. That’s where my dog’s wing comes in. (I bet you were wondering how a turkey wing fit in with Advent.)
We like to put our sins and imperfections—the ones that will keep us from being ready for Jesus’ arrival—out of sight and out of mind. We think that nobody at the party will notice if we hold together the tear in our nylons with nail polish. But this isn’t an ordinary birthday celebration. This infant is the Savior of the world. And so we –
Dig It Up
Pull those bad habits out and take a good look at them. Invite the Holy Spirit to help you recognize your faults. This isn’t a moment for self-chastisement. You would wear your best outfit to an important event. Think of this step as checking out that outfit to see if there are any loose buttons or stains that need dealing with before the big day.
Carry It Around
They are distasteful to look at, and you may want to stick them back in the hole right away, but resist the temptation. Don’t hide your imperfections. Acknowledge them and do battle. Ask Jesus to help you conquer those habits. If you habitually eat too much, fast. If you swear like a sailor, put a dollar in the poor box each time a word slips out. If you’re selfish, volunteer to deliver meals to the homebound.
At the end of the day, discuss your successes and failures with Jesus. Resolve to do better tomorrow.
We are human. We will convince ourselves that those sins are minor, nothing to worry about. We will bury them again. Don’t berate yourself when you do this. Resolve to repeat the process tomorrow.
There are many free resources online that can lead you through Advent. Matthew Kelly’s Dynamic Catholic site offers the Best Advent Ever. Redeemed Online has Advent reflections offered by religious sisters for a new and unique point of view. Daily prayer and reflection with your Bible, particularly Luke 1:5 through 2:20, can help you come closer to the Christ Child.
One day, very soon, Buster’s turkey wing will be soft enough to eat, and he will enjoy every bite. Over the next few weeks, you have the opportunity to soften your attachment to sin and weaken the hold your imperfections and habits have over you.
If you put out the effort, you will be ready to welcome the King by the time He arrives. Don’t aim for perfection. Just greet Him with the will to place Him above all else, and let Him do the rest.
©Jacqueline Vick, 2017