By FRED SHELLABARGER
If you are like me, you find yourself approaching the close of what seems like a difficult year. We’ve all had this experience. Sure, there were triumphs and great joys; yet, some years just seem more exhausting than others. This can leave us feeling “ready” for that “fresh start” that the new year offers us.
This year, I am reminded of the beauty of the church’s liturgical calendar, especially as it relates to this new beginning, that is, the new year. When do we celebrate Christ’s birth? Near the darkest and shortest day of the year, when the nights are much longer than the day. This is when Christ, the light of the world comes forth. From this point, the days grow longer and brighter. The light of the world has come, and the darkness flees.
Indeed, when there seems to be little light, hope is waning, we are tired, burned out, and in need of renewal, when things are at their darkest, that is when the light of Christ comes bursting forth into our lives, making all things new and giving us such great hope.
During Advent we, of course, remember the promise of the Savior’s coming that began all the way back in the Garden of Eden. We sing of this in that great and beautiful hymn, O, Come, O, Come Emmanuel. We look forward to his final coming as our Lord and judge. Indeed, we even pray this in the prayer that our Lord gave us, “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done.”
When the world seems to be closing in around us, when we feel like we cannot win, we must also remember, we do not grieve as those who are without hope. Christ is victorious.
There is another aspect of Advent that we often take for granted. Yes, it is about the coming of Christ, both in the manger at Christmas, and looking forward to when he returns as our judge and king. However, as we begin this new year, let us also be more aware of his daily coming into our lives as we seek to know and love him more each day.
Pope Francis reminds us of this: “I invite all Christians… to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day.”
As we begin this new year in the church, let us prepare the way for the Lord, his coming into our lives daily. Let us make the crooked paths straight, the rough places smooth. Let us go forth and make every effort to be found without stain or defilement. Let us begin this new year by preparing the manger of our hearts, that we may receive Christ.
Fred Shellabarger is director of evangelization and discipleship for the Diocese of Sioux City.