We began Advent with two goals. 1) Try to get these new Mass responses right. 2) Prepare to celebrate a non-superficial Christmas.
A superficial Christmas practically ends before it begins. A superficial Christmas feels like work, not a holiday. A superficial Christmas costs too much money. A superficial Christmas leaves a person angry at one relative or another, out of sorts, and five pounds heavier.
How can we have a non-superficial Christmas?
Well, one “person” knows how to do it. Namely, the Church. But our Mother the Church does not take credit for inventing the proper way to celebrate Christmas. The Church learned how to do it from the true master of the non-superficial Christmas. Namely, the Virgin Mary.
“Hail, Mary!” The archangel Gabriel saluted the unique woman, indeed a new Eve. Hail, Mary. Hail, favored one.
This woman lived and breathed nothing but the will of God. No one has ever been more perfectly aware of the fundamental fact of life: I am the work of the Creator’s hands. The Blessed Mother studied this fact with every gaze of her eyes, with every sound she heard, everything she tasted, felt.
At the moment the angel arrived to greet her, Mary’s soul rested in perfect stillness. She liked to read. She didn’t watch t.v.
“What does this mean, that a glorious angel would visit me, go down on one knee before me, make such a proposal to me? Let me inquire, let me seek the truth…”
At Christmastime, the Church does nothing other than seek the truth. The truth that sin weighs us down. The truth that we dwell in death’s shadow. The truth that we need a Savior more than a million iPhones. The truth that God has seen it all, known it all—and has come to our rescue.
“Lady, child,” quoth the angel, “good question. How can this be, that you would bear a son? Good question.”
Ronald Reagan said, “Pregnant women never give birth to Volkswagens. That’s why I’m pro-life.” Likewise, a virgin doesn’t give birth to a baby at all. Except when the Holy Spirit comes upon her and the power of the Most High overshadows her, so that the Child will be called holy, the Son of God.
The Archangel explained. Silence followed. The serene and humble Virgin perceived something. She perceived something that we ourselves can only begin to grasp. Her faith in God reached down to the absolute center of her soul, so she knew Him–knew the unknowable One–like no one ever has.
In the moment of silence which followed Gabriel’s explanation, in that moment of utter stillness, the entire history of the world hung balanced, as on the head of a pin.
Our Lady perceived that an Invisible Suitor had quietly and unassumingly offered her His hand. The Holy Spirit, the infinite Love—He had laid His own invisible heart in her open palm.
Now, we love our Lady, of course. But maybe we neglect to appreciate one of her most important qualities. We venerate her monumental faith. But do we see that, corresponding exactly to the size of her faith is the size of her courage?
It takes guts for a paratrooper to jump out of an airplane. God asked Mary to jump out of an airplane, the airplane of her whole life, the airplane of everything she knew. “But I have no parachute, my Lord.”
She jumped. The Virgin dove out, in a beautiful perfect arc, into the open air of the future.
Compared to our Lady, Rambo does needlework and knits leg-warmers for ballerinas. Schwarzenegger drinks mint toddies between pedicures for his poodles, compared to her.
Anyway, what do we get when we put quiet, humble faith in God together with heroic courage that conquers every hardship? Well, we get the Blessed Virgin Mary; we get Christmas. We get Bethlehem. We get the baby Jesus born out in the cold night, warmed by the breath of lowing cattle.
At this, the angels themselves sing. The poor, exhausted shepherds have no shoes to warm their feet, but nothing can dampen their joy. Mary has given birth to the Savior.