Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
May the blessings and grace of this Advent season continue to prepare us for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ!
We should pay special attention to these blessings, because the worldly culture we live in is impatient and demanding. It skips over the beautiful time of Advent, jumping directly to Christmas (not that it celebrates the birth of the Savior, mind you). It insists on receiving gifts now, without any purifying preparation for them. From “Black Friday” to Christmas Day itself, our culture revels in its materialism and false riches. Then, just at the point when it should begin to celebrate, it slumps, sated and lethargic, back to its dull routine. Therefore, year after year, there is no depth in the world’s marking of these weeks, but only a hastening descent into a spiritual desert. As believing Christians, we have to be different.
We, who strive to be disciples of Jesus Christ, must resist the lures of this upside-down calendar. We need Advent, in order to be ready for the birth of the Lord. We need this period of preparation, lest we remain unprepared and spiritually sleeping. Our Advent preparations are interior – the cleansing and repairing of our hearts and minds, in Christ’s gracious mercy.
Just as the infant Jesus was born many centuries ago, not in a palace but in a humble stable, so too he wishes again and again to be born in our heart, in faith and love and good works. The stable of our heart must be made ready to receive him with all the more joy.
God our Father, who loves us beyond measure, gives us in Advent the time and means to prepare our hearts for Christ, just as he did for Mary throughout her life. On Dec. 8, we celebrate the great feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary.
We mark how God, in the generosity of his perfect providence, and only through the merits of Christ’s future passion, death, and resurrection, preserved Mary from any stain of original sin from the first moment of her existence in the womb of her mother, St. Anne.
We know this from the angel’s greeting, “Hail, full of grace” (Lk 1:28; literally, “having been completely graced”). By this unique, inestimable gift, Mary was able to give God her total, perfect obedience at the Annunciation. She was also thus able to give Jesus her own perfect, unstained human nature, so that she might truly become the “new Eve,” and he, the “new Adam.”
You and I have not been preserved from the stain of original sin from conception, but we have been washed clean of it in holy baptism. Our obedience, though real and sincere, is not perfect.
Part of our Advent preparation, the making ready of the stable of our heart, then, is to examine our conscience prayerfully, and to go to confession, so as to restore the full luster of our first, baptismal holiness. We strive to make our thoughts, desires and actions reflect Christ’s love, not our weakness or selfishness. Then, when on Christmas Day Christ comes to us again, we live with renewed joy and commitment the life of grace to which he calls us.
Year by year, as we grow closer to him, to Mary, and to the church, we may learn to enter more deeply into the mystery of salvation.
Finally, all this Advent preparation is not only about commemorating Christ’s coming into human history in the past, and celebrating his coming into our lives in the present. It’s also about anticipating his coming in judgment in the future. No one can drift into heaven. That’s why we need to prepare now. As we make the effort to welcome Christ in this life, by conforming our lives to his example and will, we grow in faith and the sure-founded hope of being welcomed by him in the next life, as branches well-attached to the vine (Jn 15:5).
Therefore, I urge and encourage you, not heedlessly to celebrate with the world alone, but above all to keep your faith alive and brightly burning in your mind and heart during these weeks of Advent. Many in the world celebrate Christmas for the wrong reason, and too soon, cease to celebrate.
As we celebrate, however, especially with family and friends and coworkers, and as we experience the joy of giving gifts to those we love and to those in need, let it be for the right reasons – reasons of faith, hope, and love – and let our lives always continue to reflect the joyful celebration of God’s gift of his own son to us in the Incarnation.
At the beginning of this Year of Grace 2017, I offer you all my prayers and blessings for peace, faith, health, and every good spiritual and material need in the coming year. May God bless you most abundantly! May your joy increase in these weeks as we draw nearer to our Lord Jesus Christ.
Please pray also for me, for all our priests, deacons, and sisters, for our parishes, for families, for the sick and the abandoned, for an end to violence and division, and for peace in the world.
A most blessed and happy Advent,
Your brother in Christ,
Most Reverend R. Walker Nickless
Bishop of Sioux City
P.S. The Broncos seem to be slipping a bit, but in this season of hope, I have not given up!