It can be difficult to enter into the silence and simplicity of Advent as the rush to prepare for Christmas often overwhelms us. There is so much, it seems, that has to “be done” in preparation for Christmas — purchasing gifts, cleaning, cooking, wrapping, coordinating and decorating. We burden ourselves with expectation and end up feeling stressed and tired rather than peaceful and joyful.
Instead of reflecting the peace of Christ, we often end up reflecting an image of the world around us — one that is restless and rushed rather than redeemed and ready. So, who can we look to at this time of the year to be our guide to Advent? We look to Mary, the first and best disciple, to lead us to her son. As St. Teresa of Calcutta put it so simply, “No Mary, no Jesus.” Despite the fact that Mary only speaks four times in the Bible, we can learn a lot about how to approach Advent with a heart like Mary.
Let it be
The Annunciation is the first time that we hear Mary speak in the Scriptures in response to the angel Gabriel. When Gabriel told her that she would bear the Messiah, she asked, “How will this be, since I am a virgin” (Lk 1:34)? When Gabriel gave insights into God’s plan, she responded with her whole heart: “May it be done to me according to Thy Word” (Lk 1:38).
What is striking in this passage is Mary’s use of the word “be” twice. Note that she did not rush to craft a “to-do” list but instead rested in being present to God’s plan and love for her. Mary reminds us of how important it is to set aside our own distractions and agendas so that we can simply “be” — with God and with others, especially during Advent.
Presence, Not Presents
One of my friends has a beautiful tradition of not placing the baby Jesus in the manger until Christmas morning. Jesus is wrapped up like a gift and before the family unwraps their Christmas gifts, they unwrap the baby Jesus because Jesus is the “first and best gift.” This is one of the most important lessons that Mary teaches us.
Following the Annunciation, Mary went “with haste” to stay with Elizabeth. She did not bring riches or material treasures with her, but instead the best gift of all, her overflowing joy at the presence of Jesus Christ who was growing inside her womb.
Mary reminds us that the best gift of all and the greatest gift that we can ever give to others is Jesus. The true spirit of Christmas cannot be bought or consumed. But it is a presence that we can bring to every person — in our joy, our peace and in our willingness to be with others and pray for them.
Make Room for Rebirth
Jesus was born at a time of great persecution and social upheaval. Born into the raw poverty of a stable because Bethlehem was overcrowded, there was no room at the inn for Mary and Joseph. His death on the cross was an echo of that overcrowding, for there was no room in the heart of the people for whom he had come to save. But through it all, Mary’s heart was open to the gift of new life.
Each of us is in need of a rebirth of love in our heart, and Advent presents us with that opportunity. Jesus’ birth frees us from the darkness of our own selfishness, despair and hopelessness bringing rebirth and new life.
During these Advent days, allow Mary to speak to you in the silence, in the joy and in the presence of God’s love throughout Advent. That’s the way to have a “Mary Christmas.”
Stanz is director of Parish Life and Evangelization for the Diocese of Green Bay. Her new book, “Start with Jesus: How Everyday Disciples Will Renew the Church,” is now available from Loyola Press.