Jaques Hnizdovsky, “Annunciation” (1982).

“The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come  upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you;

therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God’” (Lk 1:35).

So profound and full of power were these words told to Mary that we, too, bow in wonder and ask, “Are we ready and willing to let the Most High overshadow us?” To answer this inquiry in the affirmative, especially during the Advent season, we need to sweep away a lot of clutter from our life and remember above all that Jesus is the reason for the season.  Were we to ready four gifts to give to Jesus—one for each week of Advent–the following might come to mind:

1. Repentance. The compunction that pierces our heart with sorrow and the forgiveness it evokes with joy remind us of how much we are loved by God and of how necessary reconciliation with God is.

2. Receptivity. The distractions of this season can overwhelm us. The tenacious hold of buying and selling, meeting and greeting, makes it imperative that we go to a quiet place to pray and to recall with gratitude what Christmas really means.

3. Reliance. Instead of independent individualism, and the illusion of self- sufficiency, we need to embrace with Mary our utter dependence on God, remembering with humility that in the end we are only useless servants. 

4. Remain with God. Repentance, receptivity, and reliance on God are worthy gifts to lay at the feet of the Child Jesus in Bethlehem. Now we must remain with him in adoration and awe-filled abiding not only during Advent but throughout the coming year. 

The mercy shown to us by the Lord is like a magnet that attracts many other virtues. Patience, gentleness, and serenity help us to match our heart to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Occasions to show mercy are everywhere if only we can begin to see them with the eyes of faith. This may be the day he asks us to wrap our arms around a friend or coworker overwhelmed by grief. Perhaps he wants us to slow down and share a cup of coffee with a neighbor or donate to our local food bank. No matter the occasion, Christ calls us to be instruments of compassion wherever we are. 

Glaring headlines remind us of how much violence, disrespect for human dignity, and sheer hatred there is in the world. Mercy is like balm on these wounds; it fosters compassionate exchanges that renew our hope in the innate goodness of humankind. It is a pathway to intimacy with God and communion with all creatures great and small.

Awaiting the coming of the Lord teaches us that we are part of, not apart from, one another. Now is the time to live the truth that the kindness of the Lord endures forever, and that his mercy extends from age to age to those who love him (See Ps 103:17).

God chose Our Lady from the beginning of time to be the vessel who would assure Christ’s coming among us. Her fiat, “Let it be with me according to your word” (Lk 1:38) must become our own. We, too, must make of our heart a dwelling place for Jesus. Once there he can work through us to save the world.

Mary is our model of virtue, our guiding star, as we journey in time toward the fullness of eternity. She welcomes us daily into the circle of light surrounding her child. She longs to see us transformed into messengers of the Mystery, who is Emmanuel, “God-with-us.” 

Impoverished as his place of birth was, he invited us to eat of his body and drink of his blood. This plate of bread will always be full; this chalice of wine will never run dry.

May we continue our journey to Bethlehem with the Magi, no matter how many peaks and valleys we have to cross. Our ultimate destination is not an earthly temple but “the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb” (Rev 21:22). In following that star, may we become Advent people known for the depth and sincerity expressed in this prayer:

Lord, may the myriad blessings

you brought to this earth on that night of old

seep into every crevice of our being, making us more like you

with every breath we take. Let us extend your healing touch

to anyone in corporal or spiritual need.

Give us the grace to transform misery, wherever we see it, 

into a mission of mercy.

May this virtue be the best and most benevolent Christmas gift we receive,

not to keep it for our own sake but for the privilege of giving it away. Amen.