“Advent’s intention is to awaken the most profound and basic emotional memory within us, namely, the memory of the God who became a child.”
Ratzinger, Seek that which is Above, p16.
Before rushing into the New Year, the season of Advent is an opportunity to pause and reflect on what has been. As we approach 2019 with hope and anticipation, this liturgical season is an invitation to tidy up the lingering memory of 2018. As Dr. Brant Pitre said in episode 6 of Always Hope, in order to cultivate the virtue of hope, we must work on our memory. In as much as Advent is a season of hope, it is a season of memory.
The year is coming to a close, new beginnings are just on the horizon. Whatever 2018 brought, is already in the past. Whatever 2019 will bring, has not yet been etched into history. Advent finds us in between what has been and what will be. And although past behaviors are not always a good indication of future results, only the fool refuses to examine his life and learn from his successes and failures.
We can and should celebrate the joys of this year: A new baby! A new job! Graduation! A new love! Overcoming an illness! Weight loss! Whatever blessings came to you this year, praise God and rejoice! Or maybe this was a hard year for you and there were areas of deep struggle: Continued stress at work. Cancer or illness. Adult children troubles. A messy divorce. The lingering tension of having put off that difficult conversation yet again.
As we take this season to pause and reflect on what has been, the intention is not to get lost in those memories or to make reflection an end to itself, but rather to draw into our conscious awareness the gifts and struggles of the year and lay them before the infant child in the manger. We always journey through Advent towards Christmas. And we go through Christmas into the New Year. Jesus is the hinge of time. He is the Alpha, the Omega, and the Ever Present I Am. This is the season, as the Earth is approaching the end of another lap around the Sun, that God invites us to reflect on the past, rest in the present, and ultimately rejoice for the future.
It is with full intention that Christmas was placed near the winter solstice since it is the darkest night of the year. (Unless you’re in Australia, then it is the middle of summer. Sorry Mates for the Euro-normative biases!) In the shadow of night, Jesus comes to save the world. Recalling this event should bring joy. That’s an understatement. Let me say that again… the single greatest event in history isn’t God creating time, but stepping into it and redeeming it. The Death and Resurrection of Jesus is the reason why we look at Christmas with wonder. How is it possible that this little Child will save the world? How is it that God Almighty would personally experience every aspect of human life (except for personal sin)? And for no gain of his own! The only reason he steps into time is for us, to elevate humanity to its proper dignity. God became man, so that we could, too.
In the midst of the shopping and commercialism of the season, please take time to think about the events of this year. Was it a good year? Was it hard? Did that risk pay off? Did it flop? Is that yet to be determined? How did I grow this year? How did I take steps back? Am I physically healthier? Am I more loving today than I was on January 1? Meet these questions, not with judgment or condemnation, but with the tender love of the Child Jesus. God can and desires to bless every memory of 2018, we just have to pause and actually bring them to him.
I’ll end with this, one of my favorite Christmas songs is Little Drummer Boy (if you can forget the anachronism and false historical narrative). “I have no gift to bring, Pa rum pum pum pum, That’s fit to give our king, Pa rum pum pum pum…” Do any of us really have a gift that’s fit for the King of Kings? Probably not. But the best we can give is the same that he has given us… life, memory, and relationship. Our history, our present, and our future. As God has given us Time, we, in turn, give our subjective use of that time back to him. In that vein, we can offer everything that has happened in 2018 like the little drummer boy, as a humble attempt to bring our very best to him.
Therefore, REJOICE and see 2018 in the lens of Providence. We are all a work in progress. Take time to rest with Jesus during Christmas, before we get back to work in 2019.
Happy Advent, Merry Christmas, and may your 2019 be filled with blessings and grace!