Today the Virgin is on her way to the cave where she will give birth to the eternal Word of God in an ineffable manner. Rejoice, therefore, O universe when you hear this news, and glorify with the angels and the shepherds, Him who shall appear as a young child, being God from all eternity.
Today, while the world is busy with a multitude of hurried preparations, we, true followers of the True God, are about a different kind of preparation. For us, the true gift of Christmas is not made of plastic, and is not wrapped with a bow. Rather, it is formed by the divine person of the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and is wrapped in swaddling clothes for our salvation.
Today the Virgin is on her way to the cave where she will give birth to the eternal Word of God. Before us is a time of preparation, a time of meditation, a time of cleansing. Make straight the way of the Lord, the Sacred Scriptures proclaim, and for faithful followers of Christ this warning must be taken to heart (Jn 1:23, Is 40:3). Advent, though often celebrated as a ‘pre-Christmas’ festal season, is a time of purification for all Catholics. Each year during the Advent preparation, priests don the purple garments of repentance, and the Church enters a season of reflection. It is in the midst of this season of penance, that we recall the state of our souls in need of Christ.
Therefore, over the next few weeks, we will turn our attention inward and begin to prepare in our hearts a suitable place for the birth of our Savior. As is our custom during the seasons of preparation, we place ourselves in the presence of the great spiritual masters who have gone before us, in the hope of learning from them the necessary means by which we may win for ourselves the jewel of great price. Today, let us sit at the feet of Saint Maximus, Bishop of Turin:
How prepared and becomingly adorned we should greet the Natal Day of the Lord, and observe in a worthy manner the coming festival. To observe the festival . . . so that though the day’s solemnity may pass, the joy of its sanctifying grace may abide. For this is the special grace of the Lord’s birth day, that while it goes on to all who in the future will receive it, it still remains with the devout souls to whom it was already given. Let us then be made clean in holiness, clothed in modesty, worthy in heart; and the nearer we approach the festival, the more circumspectly let us walk.
If women who have the care of a home will on certain days wash with water the garments that are soiled, should we not also make ready our souls for the birth day of the Lord, cleaning with our tears the stains of our conscience. And they, should they find the garments so soiled and stained, that they cannot be made clean with water alone, add to the water the softening of oil and the acrimony of soap. We likewise, should we have committed sins that are not washed away by repentance alone, let us add the oil of almsgiving and the bitterness of fasting. There is no sin so grave that abstinence will not cleanse, that almsgiving will not blot out.
These are the weapons of our Faith, by means of which we wage war. That we may use these weapons we must however do violence to ourselves, we must drive out vice from our own members, that we may attain to the rewards of virtue. For we must first rule in our own hearts, before we can seize the Kingdom of heaven . . . All who sleep lose Christ, and the vigilant find Him . . . So, Brethren, let us not sleep, but keep watch about Our Lord and Savior, to make sure with unceasing vigil that no one shall steal Him from the sepulcher of our hearts, lest we may have to say at some time, “They came while we were sleeping and stole him away.” For we have enemies who will try to steal Christ from our hearts, should we lapse into sleep. So with unceasing watch let us keep Him within the sepulcher of our souls; there let Him rest; there let Him sleep; there when He wills, let Him rise again.
Therefore, Brethren, let us who are about to greet the Birth Day of the Lord clean our consciences from all defilement; and let us prepare for ourselves, not silken garments, but precious works. Elegant garments may adorn the body, but they do not adorn the conscience; unless you consider it more decorous, to go about elegant in dress and defiled in mind. That the clothing of the outward man may in all ways be becoming, let us first make worthy the dispositions of the interior man; that our bodily adornment may be the more perfect, let us wash away all spiritual stain.
Saint Maximus, On the Preparation for the Lord’s Coming.