This Advent season, we’ve stuck with our regular traditions, but at the suggestion of a few friends, we’re trying a new one. I maxxed out my library card, and now the boys countdown to Christmas each evening by unwrapping a seasonal story. I had hoped it would ensure sugarplum-sweet dreams, but—as good stories do—it’s been more than that. From the fun and fantastical to the serious or classic, it’s difficult to agree on a favorite. It’s made me want to hold onto my children and these magical days. At the end of the year, I’m needing grace to turn the page.
What is grace? With the hustle and bustle of good tidings sorts of things, along with car trouble, taxes, and ski-slope size laundry piles, I know I need it… But what is grace, exactly?
One can hardly ponder the topic without at least mentioning the Virgin Mary. Mary—the favored girl who was poor, without a room for the birth of her child, or even proper blankets to wrap baby Jesus—she’s the one the angel calls “Full of Grace,” (Lk. 1:28). The curious and now familiar greeting does not mean Mary’s status is based solely upon her, but rather her intimate connection with God. Mary is the obedient daughter of God, the honored spouse of the Holy Spirit, and the loving mother of Jesus.
When considering grace as relationship with God, I think of God becoming man and entering the wonderful and messy relationships of family and friends. Then there’s the cross, where Christ freely and completely gave Himself to all mankind. And now, the Eucharist, how Christ comes and is fully present at every Holy Mass. He offers His grace through the other sacraments, the Church, Sacred Scripture, and prayer. We can even experience God’s grace while we’re working in the garden, or washing the dishes, or at lunch with a friend—this gift not of something from God, but God Himself.
It starts with revelation, the gradual revealing of the glory and love of God. That’s why before we read those wonderful picture books, my family also spends Advent progressively decorating a Jesse Tree. I want my children to know how from the very beginning, God has had a plan for us, hope for our future. I want them to hear the prophetic whispers and see the prefigurations of Christ in the Old Testament, so that they can know and love Jesus in the New Testament, and every day.
As a mother, maybe it’s easier to imagine that first Advent season. That preparation period for the coming of Christ. I think of Mary’s growing belly, the discomfort of a donkey, the draftiness of the stable, and those first unexpected visitors, the shepherds. What’s struck me most this season, is how the Gospel writer says she “laid him in a manger,” (Lk 2:7).
I don’t think my firstborn’s feet touched the ground until he was almost two, and I don’t remember actually ever using that ridiculous safari-sports decorated crib. I held him, kissed him, rocked him. That great, beautiful gift was mine.
But Mary held the Christ-child. She rocked Heaven’s Darling and held every bit of grace in her arms… and she laid Jesus in a manger, a food trough for livestock. She knew He was not hers to keep, for grace—a relationship with God and God Himself, the Gift and the Giver—that’s forever been meant to share.
May we prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ, and may the grace of the Lord be with you always… and may we share Him this season and next.