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God is With Us

“God is in the manger, wealth in poverty, light in darkness, succor in abandonment.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote these words to his wife, on one dark Advent night in his prison cell. In hunger and abandonment, the young theologian discovered a fresh wonder at Christmas. Christ was born into poverty. Christ was born into hunger. Christ was born in darkness, cold, and ugliness. Forever after, this means God is with us in our poverty. God is with us in our ugliness. God is with us, at every moment, in all his beauty and wonder. No matter how dark the world becomes, God is with us.

“Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”

The Baptist’s words echo through each week of Advent, the way they echoed through the hills of Israel. Prepare the way. Prepare them for what?

“Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth; And all flesh shall see the salvation of God” (Luke 3:5).

These words mean everything now, as we gear up for 2023.

What will the new year bring? Two years ago, Covid-19 was declared an international pandemic and a new phrase came into vogue: “the new norm.” It was appropriate. The pandemic unsettled an already unsettled culture. The new norm has been a world rife with apprehension and anxiety. What is next? China, Russia, pandemics, vaccines, riots, cultural war, inflation. We are stretched out like a string ready to snap.

It is into this mess precisely that Jesus Christ is born.

“Every valley shall be filled.”

God knows what we are going through. He knows our fears. He listens to us when we worry at night.

“Every mountain and hill shall be brought low.”

An attentive mother notices every furrowed brow on her child. She detects it when her son is pensive, or her daughter insecure. God knows us more intimately. God sees our struggle and each and every obstacle on the road.

“The crooked shall be made straight.”

God watches the crooked. He hears the plans of the wicked. There are no shocking events to God. In all the twists and disappointments of life, God is working patiently to straighten and renew.

Where is God? Where is God in our pain? Where is God in the mess of this world? Christmas arrives to remind us: He is right here. He is in the stable. He is in the manger.

Now imagine stepping into the stable. Outside everything is cold and bitter. You walk into the stable and everything is warm. The walls shut out the wind. A light flickers. The animals are quiet. St. Joseph and the Blessed Virgin are mesmerized, transformed, overwhelmed with wonder and happiness, and a baby coos.

“All flesh shall see the salvation of God” (Luke 3:5).

When Christmas arrives a light is born into our lives, and declares: God is with us.

We need to prepare our hearts so that we too can rest in that stable, with St. Joseph and the Blessed Virgin. We can step away from the cold outside. Something cosmic has happened. Something far more exciting than the headlines in the news: Christ is born.

Fasting always opens the soul. By eating less food, the food you do eat becomes more valuable. When you go a day abstaining and then sit down at night for a little meal, that meal becomes magical. Every little bite delicious. The Church takes food seriously. A great deal of our spirituality revolves around food, learning to abstain from it on fasting days, and learning to cherish it on feast days. It gives you a new appreciation for food. Every meal is meant to be a celebration of life. Every bite and drink ought to overwhelm us with thanksgiving. Indeed, every delight every day should be a celebration, and this is the reason for the season.

We have these few days left to prepare, one more week of fasting and penitence, so that when the holy night arrives, our heart will be fixed.

The Twelve Days of Christmas come as a time for mirth and joy. We may join Christ in the manger. Sit down around a piano and sing Christmas carols. Relax in your armchair and drink egg nog. Invite your friends over and make merry. We will shout: Christ is born! God is in the world. This means we can celebrate the world. Taste God in everything sweet and savory. Listen to him in everything melodious. Feel him in everything soft.

“What a glorious thing fresh, cold water is!” A philosopher once wrote. “How splendid water is, or a rose, a tree, an apple…In the midst of our workaday cares we raise our heads and unexpectedly gaze into a face turned towards us, and in that instant we see, everything which is, is good, worthy of love, and loved by God” (Joseph Pieper).

Christianity introduced joy to the world, precisely because Christians know why we can celebrate. There will always be poverty. There will always be politicians. But the cacophony comes to very little in the end, for Christ is born. God is with us

“All flesh shall see the salvation of God” (Luke 3:5).

One more week of Advent — Prepare your heart for the feast.


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