He Comes in Silence

 A few years ago a friend shared a prayer with me called the St. Andrew’s Christmas Novena. The devotion, popular in the Western Church, is prayed daily from the feast of St. Andrew until Christmas. It is a beautiful prayer, and it goes like this:

“Hail and blessed be the hour and moment in which the Son of God was born of the most pure Virgin Mary, at midnight, in Bethlehem, in the piercing cold. In that hour vouchsafe, I beseech Thee, O my God, to hear my prayer and grant my desires through the merits of Our Savior Jesus Christ, and of His blessed Mother. Amen.”

This prayer, profound in its simplicity, tells not only the meaning of Christmas, but the meaning of our lives in Jesus Christ. Close your eyes and picture the scene: night falls after a long day’s travel. Mary, uncomfortable and tired, knows her time of delivery is imminent. Joseph, doing his duty by registering for the census, feels the weight of responsibility for the care of the wife he brought so far from home, and the child who’s on his way. Searching the crowded city, the couple finally finds a cave in which to rest and wait. It’s quiet and cold. Finally, the child is born, but not just any child: the Word of God spoken as a helpless infant. The silence of the night is interrupted by the cries of the Child, the low hum of His mother’s comforting song, and Joseph softly stroking the newborn King’s head. Once again the quiet, and only Heaven really knows the wonder, the miracle of God’s love that the Earth will puzzle over and misunderstand as the Child grows.

In our “traditional” experience of Charlie Brown Christmas specials, “Midnight Mass,” and the breaking of oplatky embossed with Nativity scenes, it’s easy to embrace the “noise” of Christmas and lose the quiet contemplation and wonder. In our cozy kitchens, by the fireside, and snuggled in our beds we may forget the magnificence in the austerity of the Nativity of Christ. God becomes a man, the Creator becomes a creature, and the Son becomes a son. God breaks into time and history, into “the piercing cold” on a night a long time ago, in a place far away, yet into the very heart of the experience of each one of us.

The one, true living God is not a concept or a distant Watcher. He is a Person: a relationship of love – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – who desires to be so close to us for all eternity that He comes to meet us “on our own turf.” The Son of God enters His creation Picture1as a baby, piercing not only the cold darkness of one night in history, but the cold, dark spaces of our human experience. Christmas shopping and gift-giving, baked ham and cranberry sauce, and the reunion of family and friends are an important and vital part of our Christmas experience. Worship in the Divine Liturgy and communion with each other are essential to the celebration. But so too is the quiet meditation, deep in each of our hearts, on the Word made flesh. Jesus became a man to save us – yes – to heal our spiritual infirmity – yes – and to conquer death – YES! Yet within the magnanimity of this saving act is the simple, subtle, unassuming truth of Emmanuel: God with us. When we are vulnerable, so is He. When we are weak and sick, so is He. When we laugh and when we cry, He is there.

As we wrap gifts and buy groceries, prepare feasts and make our way to Liturgy in the cold of night or the crisp early morning, let’s remember to steal moments of quiet thought. The gifts are signs pointing to the Gift of God Himself. The feast and fellowship we share foreshadow the bountiful goodness He has prepared for us. The Liturgy is that place where we meet Him, face to face, as vulnerable in the Bread and Wine as He was in the manger, but no less physically and spiritually present. Our hearts are the place where He lives, if we prepare a place there for Him to rest with us.

“Hail and blessed be the hour and moment,” and every moment of our lives, because God is near.

Ann Koshute teaches theology for Saint Joseph’s College Online. This article first appeared in Eastern Catholic Life, the official publication of the Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Passaic.

Mary and Advent (Or, Why Legos Just Don’t Satisfy the Infinite Thirst for God)

Worth Revisiting Wednesday – This post originally appeared on December 7, 2014.

My kids are into Legos right now. They are perhaps not my favorite toy, to which the bottom of my foot will testify.


But Legos—excuse me, interlocking brick construction systems—are at least an interesting case-study in human desire. To wit: Kid A desperately wants Lego Set X. He thinks, speaks, and dreams of Lego Set X. He obtains Lego Set X—rejoicing! He constructs Lego Set X. It’s fun.

On the day after comes the Great Letdown. Onto desiring Lego Set Y!

We adults may not try to fill the God-hole in our hearts with Lego sets. Then again, maybe we do.

Or perhaps we go for more Grow out of legossophisticated alternatives. Like the iPhone 6. Or the right job. Or the great relationship. But we are still just overgrown kids, vainly throwing Lego bricks into an infinite hole and wondering why we still feel lousy.

All of this points to the providence of having the Feast of the Immaculate Conception right smack in Advent, on December 8. The season of Advent these days has become the time to advert to our infinite desire for God amidst and despite the relentless consumerism of December. The purity of Mary, which is the product of her Immaculate Conception, releases her to drink deeply from the only well that satisfies human thirst: the truth and love of the triune God.

Mary fully allows the Father to achieve what Fr. Robert Imbelli in his beautiful book Rekindling the Christic Imagination calls “Christification”:

Christians are called not merely to the imitation of Christ but to participation in his own life, gradually becoming transformed from their old self to the new self, recreated according to the image and likeness of their Savior, who loves them and, in the Eucharist, continues to give himself for them.

The icon is the Mother of God of the Inexhaustible Chalice, a classic Russian icon. Mary calls us to come and drink from that chalice that never runs dry, the eternicon 3al, self-giving love of her Son Jesus. Like Christ arising from the chalice, so are we, as little Christs, resurrected into the newness of Christian life by his Eucharist grace. The Christification that God has achieved in Mary, he wants to do for each of us. What Mary has allowed God to do for her, she wishes us to experience through her maternal care. And we will, if we say fiat as she did.

This, then, is the hope of Advent: the hope of transformation into Christ, the satisfaction of those infinite longings for the triune God. This is the hope we bring to others. “The New Evangelization is not about a program,” Fr. Imbelli writes, “but about a Person and about participation in the new life he enables.”

As cool as Legos are, that’s much, much better.

Angela Franks teaches theology for Saint Joseph’s College Online.